The past couple of days have been filled with amazing people, food, and experiences on the Wheels of Justice tour. Yesterday we drove up from Sioux Falls to Marshall, Minnesota to speak at Southwest Minnesota State University. We spoke in a conference center in the student union building and a bunch of professors attended with their students. The students seemed predominantly quiet, but professors asked Paul and I a number of good questions. Unlike other stops people here were curious and genuinely interested in learning more about other sides to the story than those they receive from the mainstream U.S. media. We had some good discussions about what it means for victimized people to become victimizers as well as the viability of a one-state solution and why it is important for everyone’s rights to be met. The drive up there was long (about 2 hours each way), and apparently we traveled through the plains areas where America’s darling (aka its favorite writer of settler colonialism for youth to consume on tv and in storybooks), Laura Ingalls Wilder, comes from. There were enormous windmills everywhere along the farm landscape, which was mostly flat.
We reached Sioux Falls and went to our favorite local haunt here, Black Sheep Coffee, which has a fabulous bumper sticker on its door:
This coffee shop is in a neighborhood near a refugee resettlement support center and it seems as though historically Ethiopians and Vietnamese people are those who have populated this area. The coffee shop always seems to be filled with local Ethiopian folks (some of whom own an Ethiopian restaurant next door) all of whom love our bus. One man we met asked us to photograph him with the bus this morning:
Suffice it to say that parking the bus out front, on a main thoroughfare through the city, has attracted a number of great conversations among the locals here in Sioux Falls (in fact when we first pulled up here a woman greeted us exclaiming, “I love the bus!”).
When we got back from Minnesota yesterday we drove over to a local public library in Sioux Falls where we spoke for two hours, which was great as it afforded Paul and I time to add other aspects of the occupation of Iraq and Palestine that we feel overlap (particularly refugee stories in Lebanon and Israeli aggression against Lebanon and its effect on Palestinians and Lebanese alike there). We had a great conversation with the group of community members, including a local pastor whose church we’ll speak at tonight. There was another young man who is a welder who was interested in learning about the great strides labor unions in Canada are making with Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions. There was one young man there last night who appears to be the son of a Jewish professor at Augustana College who, along with another Jewish professor, both of whom are staunchly Zionist, kept us from speaking on their campus. Fortunately, this young man knows how to think for himself and was there to learn more about Palestine and Iraq in ways that depart from what he has learned at home. After the lecture we returned to our host’s home for a lovely homemade dinner. He’s someone who volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement, too, a few years before me and he works at Augustana.
Although we were not able to speak at Augustana, we were able to set up a table in their student union this morning for a few hours, which frankly was one of the better moments of this tour. We put out informational flyers and such about Palestine and Iraq and were able to have lengthy conversations with genuinely curious people who were not necessarily on the same page as us, but who certainly wanted to have a conversation. I was very impressed with the students on this small campus. They were engaged and committed and I imagine that these are the sorts of young people who will follow up on things like the UN Resolutions and Geneva Conventions that we discussed. Funnily enough our table was set up underneath a cheerleading promotional sign:
After that we were scheduled to have an interview on KCSF 90.9 on a show called Dakota Midday with Paul Guggenheimer. Actually, someone called the station and tried to get him not to interview us (well, me in particular) because he was told that I advocate for the destruction of the state of Israel (which I do, technically speaking, given that creating a one-state solution involved not having a Jewish state, but it doesn’t involve exiling Jews). But we talked for a good fifteen minutes on the phone yesterday and found that I wasn’t the extremist that people assume me to be by surfing the Internet and finding random libelous stories about me. But when we arrived he was not aware that I was not speaking as myself, but as a part of the Wheels of Justice tour and that the point of the bus is that we never separate the issues. They are intertwined as dual occupations and that is why Paul and I are here together. So when we got there and they wouldn’t interview Paul, we had to leave. Strange that it is so hard to get Iraq on the table. Even stranger that someone who interviews people for a living on a public radio station can’t just wing it given whatever the latest morning’s headlines are about Iraq and ask questions and take from there by letting the conversation emerge naturally.
In the end it was fine because someone from the station wants to put us on TV tomorrow morning. But we got to go to lunch earlier as a result, which was an incredible treat. Amazing kibbe in Sioux Falls. Former South Dakota Senator Jim Abourezk (of Lebanese origin) and his wife Sanaa (Syrian) have an amazing restaurant called Sanaa’s. The food is really high quality, organic, and the restaurant is certified as green (even take away containers are made from biodegradable materials). She has a great cookbook that Paul and I bought, too. The food reminds me a lot of Aunt Salwa’s in Beirut near my old apartment. So we had kibbe and kofta! 🙂
The food was amazing, the decor was bright, cheery, and beautiful. We also found an old cash register that belonged to Jim’s grandfather when he first came over to the U.S. from a village in South Lebanon as a peddler in the late nineteenth-century. Later he opened a shop on an American Indian reservation where Jim was born. Here is the cash register:
Jim’s life has been amazing. His parents’ story is wonderful to listen to as is his life in general. He’s done so much for people in South Dakota, particularly the indigenous here, and also for people around the world. His office wall was an amazing feast for the eyes, filled with pictures of him with people from Abu Jihad, to George Habash, to Yassir Arafat, to Fidel Castro, to American Indian Movement leaders….the list goes on and on. Here are some photographs of Jim pointing out these photographs to us and giving us his mesmerizing life story:
Jim has been to Tibet with National Geographic reporters, advised filmmakers like those producing Lakota Woman, founded the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and authored legislation like the Indian Children’s Welfare Act. And that’s just the beginning. Here is one recent award he received that he shared with us:
Sioux Falls is turning out to be an amazing experience, a fascinating place. More soon…