California Travels

For the past  couple of weeks I’ve been traveling across my home state of California. Because I was on the train between Berkeley and Los Angeles I had a lot of time to look out the window and think about the land I was traveling through. The first thoughts that entered my mind were about the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen in order to create all the settlements, military bases, universities, etc. One can begin learning about the history of indigenous California here.

I was also thinking about more recent history because I spent most of my train ride reading Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. After spending so much time studying the Arab World, I’m learning about the history of where I come from, Los Angeles, California. Davis’ book is amazing because it gives so much context to things I only heard about or partially understood growing up. I also watched Gregory Nava’s brilliant film El Norte again, which shows the challenges and the push factors compelling people to leave their land and labor in the U.S. (see trailer below). Apparently there is a new documentary called Harvest of Empire detailing these push factors. One thing is for sure, the economy here, and in most of the U.S. economy would not function without people willing to do all the difficult, dirty work that the majority of Americans are unwilling to do.

I thought a lot about the farm land and farmworkers I watched as my train passed by. This was, of course, not hard to do give how much agribusiness is in the heartland of California. It made me think of the Delano Grape Boycott organized by César Chávez throughout much of my childhood. It also made me think of the important ballot initiative in the upcoming election and California’s Proposition 37, which would require food producers to label all GMOs used in their products.

I traveled north for a book event at the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which turned out to be a terrific event. Lots of teachers showed up, which is what I hoped for. But also there were people from various periods of my life–friends from elementary school, from Boise, and various other periods and places in between.

Upon my return there was another hearing for the renewal of the Veolia contract with the Los Angeles city council. This time we spoke before the entire city council (although they seemed infinitely more interested in playing with their phones or reading the newspaper so I doubt they listened). In any case, they voted unanimously to renew the Veolia contract at the beginning of the meeting. We merely spoke to express our opposition to that vote. Prior to our speaking a woman involved in the Los Angeles sister city program was being honored. I had noticed, for the first time, on my walk to City Hall that there is a street sign (see above) indicating all of the sister cities connected to Los Angeles. One of them is Beirut. But another one is Eilat, an Israeli city in occupied Palestine. This is a city that only a month ago was protesting the inclusion of Sudanese children into their schools. Yet another example of the inherent racism of Zionism. While Los Angelenos seem to think it is a problem to fight racism and apartheid in Palestine, it seems that Quakers do not. Quakers not only voted to boycott Veolia, but Hewlitt Packard as well. There are audio reports about the Los Angeles vote and organizing around it which can be listened to here and here.

My second book event at the Levantine Center, with Mark Levine, Antony Loewenstein, and Saree Makdisi took place in Los Angeles at a church near UCLA.   This event was larger, but it included other people. In any case, the discussion was quite interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which were the Iranian Jews in the audience whose heads were so immersed in Zionist propaganda that one woman denied the existence of the murder of Mohammad al-Durra and the massacre in Jenin refugee camp–two events that I discuss in my book, actually. Of course, it sounded exactly like Nazi holocaust denial, which is what I said to the woman. The event was filmed so if it becomes available I will post it.

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