Life During Capitalism- one history student's perspective on life during capitalism

"To omit or to minimize these voices of resistance is to create the idea that power only rests with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth, who own the newspapers and the television stations. I want to point out that people who seem to have no power, whether working people, people of colour, or women-once they organize and protest and create movements-have a voice no government can suppress." Howard Zinn

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Global Uprising: from Guantanamo Bay to No. 20 Symonds Street


As I write this I send my thoughts to those struggling against the Halliburton built torture camps at Guantanamo Bay. They are an inspiration. To the six men who rebelled this week against their jailors I lend my strength. Their actions carry within them the flame of all humanity that resists injustice. However, before you read this article I will warn you. It is in unequal parts a film review, an open letter of protest, an eyewitness account of campus life, a corporate accountability report, a message of solidarity, a note of thanks and a declaration of war.

On Monday I read in the Craccum editorial (#10, pg. 4) that US corporation Halliburton was coming sometime soon to the Faculty of Engineering to recruit students. On Tuesday I received the following message concerning the Halliburton visit in an email from a friend, “Pity we didn't have more warning. Could have organised an awesome anti-war profiteering protest.” On Wednesday I went and saw A Letter to the Prime Minister: Jo Wilding’s diary from Iraq. On Thursday morning I woke up and rode my bike into university and decided to do a bit of investigating into this Halliburton visit. No one seemed to know for sure when and where the visit was taking place. After a bit of legwork I finally found what I wanted on one of the Engineering Department’s notice boards. A glossy promotional poster that read, “Reaching for the future? Think red.” Just in time. Overlaid on top of a picture of a massive oilrig was the notice that Halliburton’s presentation was the very same day.

In A Letter to the Prime Minister Wilding chases the “destruction of the lives of ordinary people during the bombing campaign and their subsequent neglect by Occupation forces and the interim authorities.” She travels to bombed out houses, crowded hospital operating theatres and through the US sniper haunted streets of Falluja to seek out the victims of Western imperialism. The film is a testament to the courage and endurance of the Iraqi people and a reminder to those in the West that for many in the Middle East resisting the colonialism that came in our name is part and parcel of everyday life.

I always seem to leave those sorts of film’s with either a feeling that A) I need to be doing more to help these people or B) Despair. We’ve travelled to far down the path towards a world of hate, violence and bombed out rubble that there isn’t a thing we can do to change anything of significance. A week ago I had dropped a friend at the airport. He was on his way to the United States for a memorial service for a friend who had been murdered in Baghdad. The two of them were part of a four-person team who were in Iraq to support the non-violent Iraqi resistance to the US led occupation. For that reason I was caught between my two available emotions. Even as the occupation was producing more chaos and more uncertainty for the Middle East’s future the sacrifices some were prepared to make in the search for peace with justice was also escalating.

By the time I walked out of class on Thursday morning my resolve had set. No way could I allow Halliburton to come into my turangawaewae and recruit for its imperialist projects.

Now a lot of people might say “Why all the fuss? Why make a big deal about something that’s none of your business?” That’s what they were saying when white people started sticking up for blacks, when straight people started backing up their queer friends and what they said to me when I joined other Pakeha marching in solidarity with Maori against the racist Foreshore and Seabed Bill. It’s the same logic. It’s an argument that makes up the first part of a long slippery slope towards fitting the locks on the gates of concentration camps.

And it’s an argument I didn’t have time for last Thursday. There were posters to make. Emails to send. Requests for banners and megaphones had to be typed out quickly and texted to various activists. By the time the two-dozen or so students and faculty members had assembled on Symonds Street sixteen activists had been arrested in Duncan, Oklahoma at Halliburton’s annual shareholder conference, which was coincidentally being held at the same time as our attempt to disrupt Halliburton in Aotearoa. Without realising it we were a solidarity action with the American arrestees who included Hiram Myers, a 74 year old member of Veterans for Peace and with the activists from Peru and Nigeria who went inside the meeting as Halliburton shareholders and raised concerns about Halliburton's bribery of government officials in Nigeria and about a pipeline constructed through pristine rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon.

The protest itself seemed to me very surreal. Looking back on it now vivid images stick out. Myself and three other students walking to the front of the quite full lecture hall and holding banners that read “No Wars for Fuel; No Fuel for Wars” and “No Blood for Oil” as students both clapped and jeered. One student launched into a very angry attack on us, swearing and shouting at us to, “F*** off”. (It was only later that I was told he was the son of the Halliburton rep whose presentation we were gate crashing.) The apple core flying through the air then landing at the feet of a member of the Student Association Executive as we stood silently at the front of the hall. The security guard’s pulling me towards the door even as I still tried to read to the lecture hall from the piece of paper I held detailing the long list of Halliburton crimes. The Faculty’s registrar calling for order, as I slipped back into the hall, to join other students expressing their disgust at Halliburton’s presence. The police cars and extra security guards turning up to enforce our eviction.

Halliburton is the company that is rebuilding Guantanamo Bay, the American prison camp renowned the world over for torture and illegal detainment. The company that is stealing the oil wealth of the Iraqi people, that keeps the military infrastructure alive and well in Iraq, that uses slave labour, that is run by those behind the drive to war in Iraq, that sells polluted water to working class communities, that used worker’s pensions to pay for management benefits, that feeds US soldiers spoilt food, that is accused many, many times over on accounts of fraud and bribery in the US, Iran, Nigeria and across the world.

So, thank you to all the students who braved the chill Auckland night to hold banners up against windows overlooking the buffet of booze and cocktail food the engineering students were being fed. Cheers to the other students who resisted being thrown from the lecture hall. Thank you to the Asian Studies Professor who came late, long after we’d been kicked out but was still keen for us to all together rush the lecture hall door. Thanks to the members of the Campus Greens for smuggling out Halliburton beer for us to enjoy. Thanks to the many engineering students who after the lecture came and thanked us for protesting. Thank you to the other engineering students who walked out of the presentation after we had been kicked out.

In 1968 hundreds of people occupied Columbia University to protest its links with the war in Vietnam. The university administration called in the police by cover of night to evict the hundreds of students and staff with massive violence. A student at the time recalled the sight of police beating and evicting protestors. “At that point I realized the administration of this university is the enemy. They’re part of the military-industrial complex. These people are not supporters of learning. They are not my friends.” Ditto Auckland University, 2006. Or as folk singer Ethan Millar puts it,

“It's been said before and I'll say it once more, let's bring the war home
And battle the forces of greed and injustice wherever they may roam
No more will we stand idly by
While they ravage the earth and hurl flame from the sky”

For more information on Halliburton see http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/ and http://www.corpwatch.org/ Download Ethan Millar on http://www.riotfolk.org/

Published in Craccum, May 29 2006

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