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Friday, June 19, 2015

Never go with the Black dude

I used to be hassled constantly at airport security and United States immigration and custom inspections. Before September 11, 2001, I would be subjected to secondary inspection about half the time at airport security. For half a year after September 11, 2001 I was not pulled into secondary a single time even though I was traveling a lot under alleged enhanced security controls. After complaints of racial profiling (I am not of Arab appearance), airport security switched back to their previous profile and once again I was pulled aside in constant “random” inspections. If I were cheeky and asked why, I would be told it was a “random” inspection as if I had “random” stenciled across my forehead. For all of its faults, under the TSA regime my life at airport security screening has been much easier.

When I was younger, my less than orthodox appearance also led to predictable secondary inspections at United States immigration checkpoints. Several years ago an immigration official asked what I do and I told him that I was a college professor. He laughed and said I looked like a college professor and waved me through. I sighed a deep sigh of relief and I thought that turning gray meant that finally my days of being hassled by immigration were over.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned that as a person of German heritage I will least likely be hassled by the biggest, whitest, most nazi-looking immigration officials because they have little to prove to their colleagues. It is a matter of empirical observation, and I assume that somewhere academic studies exist to prove this, that women and those of non-European heritage are under pressure to prove themselves in ways that those from the dominant culture do not experience. In my goal to move through immigration and other security checkpoints, I have learned to play these racial dynamics to my advantage.

In coming back from Ecuador recently, I had a choice between 2 lines at customs. I tried to look through the doorway to see who was sitting at the desk and all I saw was 2 big dudes so I selected the slightly shorter line. I almost immediately regretted my decision, and probably should have moved to the other line. As the other line with the mean-looking nazi moved quickly, my line with the darker-looking dude slowed to a crawl. This was the general line of questioning when it was finally my turn:

Where are you coming from?

What were you doing there?

How long were you there?
Two weeks.

Why do you have so much luggage for such a short trip?
I am a historian and I buy lots of books.

At this point, the customs official reached over and tried to lift one of my 50-pound suitcases and said “offfft.” I thought I had convinced him of the veracity of my story, but instead he sent me to secondary inspection where they ignored me until I almost missed my connection. When an official in secondary finally opened one of my bags and saw only books, he asked what I was doing in Ecuador. I explained I was there for a book launch. He asked if I was a writer, and I said I was a historian. He did a cursory riffle through the suitcase and, of course, all he found was books. And I was finally on my way.

To top it all off, when I returned home I saw that the contents of the other suitcase had also been riffled through. The bag did not contain a TSA flyer and the code on my combination lock had been changed, so apparently someone in Quito had successfully broken into the bag and dumped all the contents upside down. I feel violated every time TSA searches my bag, and it is even worse when an airline employee opens the bag looking for something to rob. I complained to American Airlines, but they made it clear that they were not going to do anything about it. American Airlines does not care. They do not have to care. They are too big to care.

Earlier this spring, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz came to campus to give a talk as part of a tour with her excellent new book An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. When she left our tiny Kirksville airport, the TSA officials ran her thru the mill. I later apologized for the hassle, but Roxanne said she did not mind. “With their minimum wage pay,” she said, “they deserve a little power tripping as a bonus.” Roxanne is a better person than I am, and I’m probably a worse person for being so willing to play the race card when it is to my advantage.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Julian Assange spoke to the World Social Forum via internet from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, but the room had no electricity and hence no amplification and few people could hear him. Here is the audio of his comments. As soon as he was done speaking, the electricity came back on.

Others spoke on the panel about other topics, including the role of wikileaks in the Tunisian revolution. An independent  journalist from Morocco said, “Without internet there would have been no Arab Spring in Morocco. Without internet I would have been imprisoned.”

Five Years On: Voices from the Margins

Five Years On – Panel I: Success and Failure of Strategies for Political Change in the MENA Region Panel II: Voices from the Margins: Youth activists from the non-center in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.

(Notes from a World Social Forum panel, March 27, 2015. I have audio with speakers in Arabic if anyone wants it.)

Tunisia: Demands were jobs, freedom, and dignity. Mostly economic demands. No other alternative but immigration. Second demand was for freedom, political liberties: free elections, trade unions, form associations, protests, freedom of opinion, expression, religion. Third slogan: national dignity, most difficult. Not all agree on definition, but all opposed to tyrannical regime. Wanted to show civilization and culture that goes back to Carthage. Dictatorship tries to erase Tunisian cultural identity and history. Purpose was to fragment people. What has changed since the revolution? Freedom was major achievement. Everyone is able to express themselves: freedom of expression and belief. All forms of freedom, including collective and individual. Employment hasn’t improved. State action not enough, also see civil society. In terms of dignity, better than others. Before some Tunisians rejected citizenship, but now more dignity.

Morocco: Were political demands, both republicans and monarchs but agreement to oppose oppression. Economic demands for jobs, salaries, etc. What have we achieved? State has been smart in way it has dealt with protests: open and accept demands. Violent repression. King promises reforms. Continued until adoption of 2011 constitution, but wasn’t democratic. Wanted to please everyone. King still controls army and judicial system. Chapter on rights and liberties, universalities. Constitution that was meant to improve situation was not implemented and practices did not change, no legislative reforms. Protests: broke wall of fear. Moroccans no longer afraid to ask for rights. People still protest once a month. Youth still convinced that much needs to be done. People still encouraged to protest.

Yemen: Repression of freedom of expression. No peaceful alternation of power. Opposition is repressed. Issues of employment and immigration. With fall in salaries, half live under poverty level. Tribal conflicts. Education and health: High mortality rates, lower level of education, difficulties in accessing education, esp. in rural areas. After fall of communism, attempt to unify north & south but massacres and state violence. New demands repressed. Conflicts between Muslims. Spontaneous revolution without ideology and we are still suffering today because of lack of capacity to manage process. Interests imposed over social demands. Badly managed revolution because of lack of education and accountability. No clear understanding of what demands mean. Former regime has fallen, but we still have remnants of it. Military leaders accountable to former regime what halts change. Revolution reveals type of thought that totally ignored before. Clean revolution in sense that it did not fall into violence. Regime defeated, but the regime’s people are still where they are and behind situation. We still don’t have a constitution: serious issue. Lack level of awareness to reorient action. We don’t have a govt, ministers. Totally isolated state from external world. People have to know how to Achieve demands.

Panel was also to include a woman from Egypt, but she was injured just before it started.

Fishbowl discussion. Student from Tunisia. Question of unemployed graduates. Will state ever be able to provide jobs? Do graduates have appropriate training? Level of education is going backwards. Will we be able to go forward by relying on past?

Answer: Need for radical reforms. First step is to make administrative procedures lighter. Not optimistic for necessary reforms.

Question (political science student, Tunis): What did revolution achieve? For example, Georgia becoming ally of US. Tragedy of Iraq? What about development? Nothing achieved. We need more than freedom to develop country. How can we change this world, and to achieve dreams of youth?
Political science student, Italy: Need to build new state, not replicate western democracy. We need real change. We have good history. Can’t understand how we talk … should we replicate economic models of west.

Tunisia: issue of political alliances with Islamist parties and also with labor unions. Tunisians don’t trust politicians and political parties, and we need to work on this.

Morocco: Question of alliances between all political players, including radical left and Islamic parties because they agreed on common demands of state. Also alliances on streets.

Tunisia: Without revolution and constitution we couldn’t be here discussing without threat to our lives.
Law professor: Constitutional assembly refused to accept proposals. No will for change.

Question: We are ready to be colonized.

Morocco: ignorance provokes slaughter and beheadings. Revolution is an ongoing process. Imperialism sees it as a game that can be achieved in a week or month, but takes time. A prize. But we must not forget challenges. Revolution has to be efficient, but is a long term ongoing process.

Yemen: Too early to talk about efficiency. Too early to even tell whether French revolution is successful. Still going on. Look to implement solutions.

Tunisia: very pessimistic questions. Revolution is not a strategy, but just people going out in the streets. Revolution means getting rid of dictatorship. After revolution we can call it what we want. But revolution is just getting rid of what was there. Many civil servants think same as before. Can we really talk of a revolution in that case?

Question (response from Tunisian): not independent event, but process. Need new system. Can’t ignore that.

Question: what does solidarity mean? What can you expect from such connections?
Answer: Must convince Tunisian voter. Voters will decide whether to accept it or not? Don’t replicate western models, but we need to know about them and we can be inspired by them. Can still chose what is most appropriate to our context. That is not a shame.

Morocco: reject intervention or imposition of lessons, and that is what the US is trying to do.

Yemen: Secular regime is the only solution, and needs to be accepted by everyone including religious parties. Need to stop confrontation among various stake holders. Street belongs to everyone. Need to resort to peaceful protest, and we should have that right.

Tunisia: Debate law to access information. No democracy without economic development. 3d: stability and security is most important. Terrorism is a global issue, and impacts our present and future. All Tunisians should overcome differences to counter terrorism. Welcome everyone to rally tomorrow. Ask for solidarity against terrorism.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NIGD Future of the Forum

NIGD Future of the Forum (March 25, 2015)

(Some very partial and fragmented notes from a session at the World Social Forum)

Virginia Vargas (Peru): need for more inclusivity, intersectionality.

Rafael (Canada): North/South Links

Never gain consensus about forum because things are constantly changing.

Teivo: Framing broad issues of forum. Debates: who participates? Political parties? Where/when? Canada, Greece, back to Brazil? No longer meets at same time as WEF. Do we lose impact from that, and do we need to rethink those issues?

Francine Mestrum: Need for new, updated analysis. Things continue to go in direction of more privatization. Need new analysis to address new situation if we want to include new movements such as Occupy. 3 major lines divide: ?, ?, nature. Link Social Justice and Climate Justice.

Torbjörn (Sweden): Tensions between eastern and western Europe. Need fewer rather than more sessions. We need convergence between organizations. Make the convergence conscious in terms of how it happens. Make process more open.

Katrina (Serbia): Concerned about who is not here. Need better strategy and structure. We need new strategy to deal with new structures.

Gina: Lack of young people in International Council.

Youth representative of investment: difficulties of emerging economies. We have the same facilities. We need to work on mind. [How does this relate to the WSF?] WSF has many challenges to overcome.

Q. of structure and funding of forum. Is the point for everyone to come and express views? Or point of convergence? Forum should be space of debate and to bring people together to peace. Q of spaces for debate (vs. spectacle).

Ivory Coast: Q of translation. We are in francophone Africa and should speak French.

Katrina: problem of language colonialism. I come from a small language. Rather than politics of language, it’s important that we understand each other.

Rafael: We need time and space and good energy to create dialogue and to confront challenges. An opportunity to build another relationship to another world. WSF will not change the world, but people in the forum have to do that. Engage new and innovative methodology.

Ruby: scales, local, regional, national

Nicolas: 3.5 yrs of speeches at WSF. Waste of time, or does everyone have the right to speak? But this is not enough. After Belem, new issues of extractivism, etc. introduced that now become core of forum. Every forum brings new issues that then become core. How do we maintain that with fewer activities and speeches? Need more agglutination, but it never really works. People want to organize their own activities, and justify expenses to funders with picture of speaking at their panel.

Brazil: We need more space for convergence. WSF not an event, but a process. Lots of results by the time it exists. Need for convergence. WSF needs to continue to exist because we still have many struggles.

First time I’ve attended forum: Need new ideas and analysis.

Torbjörn: 2d WSF, but to very many other forums. In other words, another social forum is possible. Fights between organizers and grassroots. Need leadership with more trust, and willingness to make assemblies more attractive. Canada would be even more exclusionary—it would be a joke. Only anti-imperialist event. Leadership afraid to take action. We need assemblies where we can engage issues.

Gina: Don’t like tone or accusations. Want convergence. Forum in Canada would not be an imperialist forum. USSF is one of the best forums that we have had, from the grassroots, from the bottom. Also anti-imperialist forces in US, and Brazil can also be seen as an imperialist force in South America.

Luna, 18 yrs old: youngest in the room. Few young people in forum, and we need to work to include more young people.

Katrina: Canada is expensive, lots of visa problems.

Nicolas: Problem is that panel on SF in Canada was scheduled for the same time as this panel.

Chico Whitaker: Just came from panel on Canada SF panel. World is changing very quickly, and we need to think new and different things. Problem of dates: We want to return to same dates as WEF, but that would mean January in Canada. But we also have thematic forums. Should we do a symbolic even in Porto Alegre in January, and then another forum in Quebec in August? Panel tomorrow on the future of our struggles. Canada panel was not a decision making panel.

Translator (Quebec): Attended SFs since 2004, and it has changed my life personally and professionally. More youth would benefit from this. Without forum we would need another way to come together. In Quebec, would need forum to raise new issues, consolidate struggles, and show world struggles that we face in Canada.

Libya: Need to address issues. Need networking.

Torbjörn: need to be pragmatic. More process and transparent.

French: World is changing, and we need to inform ourselves. Role of independent media. Movement Alternativa. Don’t just wait for other people to act. Future is now.

Workshop 3pm tomorrow: on new strategies at Mini Anfin

Sat morning convergence on future of forum.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

WSF Opening March

The 2015 edition of the World Social Forum began on Tuesday, March 24 in Tunis, Tunisia. About 5,000 participants joined the customary opening march in a pouring rain. Marchers advanced a variety of causes and themes to be discussed at the forum. Particularly present at the march were the themes of Palestine, women’s rights, and opposition to terrorism. The march was rerouted from the original path to end at the Bardo museum, the site of the previous week’s attack on a group of international tourists in which 22 people died. 10,000s of participants representing 4076 organizations from 130 countries are registered for the forum. The World Social Forum runs through Saturday, March 28 in Tunis.

More pictures at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A reaction to WSF statement

Here is one reaction to the WSF statement:

We are writing to express our alarm at the position adopted by the
Preparatory Commission in its comunique regarding the tragic events at
Tunisia's Bardo national museum. In particular, its announcement that
the opening World Social Forum march will come under the theme of
"Peoples of the world united against terrorism". We are seriously
concerned that the Preparatory Commission may be facilitating the
usurpation of the World Social Forum by the "war on terror" agenda.

Progressives around the globe view the World Social Forum as an
alternative space in which they can critically reflect upon and
challenge dominant narratives of state, capitalist and imperialist power
that keep peoples from imagining and achieving "another world". The
first principle of the original WSF charter is to bring together civil
society organizations "that are opposed to neoliberalism and to
domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism". For the
past 15 years, the discourses, policies and practices of the "war on
terror" have played a key role in (re)producing the various hierarchies
(of socio-economic status, of citizenship, of sovereignty, etc) that
perpetuate capitalist and imperialist power. We believe the role of
progressives should always be to express empathy and solidarity with
innocent victims of crime, regardless of the perpetrator, whether states
or non-state actors. We also believe there are times when "civil
society" may find it in their strategic interests to work with
governments to achieve certain aims. However, in a context in which
clarity is lacking and where it is difficult to access accurate
information, it is incumbent upon progressives to challenge official
narratives and propose emancipatory alternatives.

The global justice movement cannot allow itself to be used for a
domestic and geopolitical agenda that seeks to manipulate the emotions
of the public to justify a further militarization of Tunisian society
(and the world) in a way that only benefits the
security/military-industrial-complex. It also enables the entrenchment
of racialized counter-terror practices that marginalize whole
communities, criminalize dissent and, most importantly, divert attention
away from the most pressing social, economic and political issues that
were at the heart of the uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere in the world.

We believe the raison d'être of the WSF is to speak truth to power, not
to collude with power. In light of this, we hope the WSF Preparatory
Commission statement will be redrafted to take our concerns into
consideration in a cooperative and consultative fashion.

Friday, March 20, 2015

WSF statement on Tunis attacks

March 19th, 2015, Tunis
The preparatory Committee of the World Social Forum (WSF) held an urgent meeting this morning to consider the latest repercussions of the terrorist operation that targeted the Bardo Museum yesterday.
After that the Preparatory Committee recorded the size of the reassuring messages and solidary statements with Tunisia from different social actors and civilians across the world who renewed their full engagement to participate in the Forum and their eagerness for it to be the meeting of popular mobilization against terrorism in Tunisia, in the region and in the world;
International public opinion announced that:                                                                                  
*  All international delegations confirmed their programmed participation without any change, which stresses the actual size of the solidarity of the alternative globalization movement activists with Tunisia, its people, and the families of the victims of various nationalities, and their extent of commitment to peace and solidarity principles among peoples for freedom and democracy.
*  The opening march is programmed to be on Wednesday, March 24th, starting at 4 p.m. from Bab Saadoun Square toward the Bardo Museum under the slogan:
'' Peoples of the world united against terrorism ''
*  A special committee within the WSF International Council is established so as to formulate the Bardo International Charter of the alternative globalization movement in order to combat terrorism and call for a general gathering on March 26th, in the Campus University Farhat Hached around 12 p.m. for the announcement of the Charter.

Believing in the role of social, civil, and democratic and peaceful alternatives movements, in response to terrorism, the preparatory committee renews its call to mobilize all energies so that the WSF held in Tunisia will be a decisive turning point in changing the scales in favor of peace, democracy and social justice strengths in the region and in the world.
Preparatory Committee of the World Social Forum:
Abderrahman Hethili

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


In case anyone is wondering:

Tunis, March 18th, 2015.

After the terrorist attack today at the Bardo Museum, next to the National Assembly, the 2015 World Social Forum organizing committee declares that the Forum and all its activities are maintained.

Through this attack, terrorist groups attempted to undermine the democratic transition Tunisia and the region are currently experiencing while creating a climate of fear amongst citizens who aspire to freedom, democracy and pacific participation in establishing democracy.

The quick response from the social movement and all the political bodies in Tunisia opposed to terrorism, calling upon unity to fight it, proves how tunisians care about their recent democratic experience. The social movement in Tunisia and the region counts on the global support of democratic forces to oppose violence and terrorism.

More than ever, the massive participation to the WSF (Tunis 24th-28th March 2015) will be the appropriate answer from all the peace and democratic forces towards a better, more fair and free world made of pacific co-existence.

The WSF organizing comittee calls upon all WSF members and participants to intensify their efforts in mobilizing and making this moment a success, allowing the victory of civic and pacific fight against terrorism and fanatism that threaten democracy, freedom, and tolerance.

For the 2015 Tunis WSF organizing comittee

The coordinator

Abderrahmane Hedhili

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Legon to Hohoe and Wli on tro-tro

My last post on the Shai Hills was to help me find that place again, but this post is designed more to help others make their way on public transit from the University of Ghana to the Wli waterfalls on the Togo border in the Volta Region. I was surprised how hard it was for me to find clear instructions on how to reach what must be one of the top weekend destinations for international students at the University of Ghana. In fact, Lonely Planet only mentions the Metro Bus that leaves from downtown Accra in the middle of the afternoon and arrives in Hohoe after dark, and returns at an unreasonably early hour from Hohoe. What follows is a much better option, and there might be even better options:

1. Tro-tro from Legon to Madina station (50 pesewas). Personally I would recommend an early start in order to reach Wli before dark (the entire trip is about 6 hours).

2. Tro-tro from Madina to Hohoe (4 hrs, 12 cedis). The tro-tros to the Volta Region leave from the front part of the Madina station closer to the market. Hohoe seems to have several pronunciations, but ho-HOY seems to work for me.

3. Hohoe has a new lorry park and the tro-tros to Wli (most people seem to understand when I say "blee") leave from close to the entrance (30 min, 1 cedi).

When I left Wli, people told me that there were few or no tro-tros on Sunday. I don't know whether that is true or not. A taxi driver wanted to take me for 20 cedis, but I waited and took a shared taxi for 5 cedis.

The lower falls is an easy, flat 30 minute walk along the river. The upper falls is a bit of a climb, and takes about 2 hours longer than the lower falls. My guide Mr. Charles recommended a longer round-about hike to the falls, which was most definitely worth it for the views. We arranged a day in advance to leave early in the morning, which is what I would also recommend. The lower falls cost 10 cedis, the upper falls 13 cedis, and an accompanying guide is required.

The Waterfall Lodge is 50 cedis a room, is close to the entrance to falls, and provides a quiet setting with excellent views of the falls.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Shai Hills

This post is more for myself than anything, because my memory is not very good and if I ever want to make a visit again to Shai Hills these will be useful notes. In short, this is what I did:

1. Took a tro-tro from Legon to Madina Station (50 pesewas)

 2. Then from Madina to Ashaiman Station (pronounced a-shaman; 2.40 cedis). Tro-tro leaves from far back corner of Madina Station and goes right past Legon, but it probably always leaves Madina full which makes it impossible to board at Legon.

3. Ashaiman to Shai Hills (pronounced shy hills). Tro-tro leaves from front of station by main exit. My tro-tro only went to Afienya and I had to pick up a second tro-tro to Shai Hills, which is by Doryumu Junction. First tro-tro was 1.50 cedis and second was 1 cedi. Total travel time: almost 3 hrs, much of that waiting for tro-tros to leave & in heavy traffic in Ashaiman.

Shai Hills: 25 cedis for 1 hour hike, + 5 cedis for each additional hour. 2 hours (30 cedis) to Adwuku caves. 4 more hikes from far entrance which I should do next time, but that is best done with own transportation. Required to take guide, which makes hike less relaxing than it otherwise might be.


 1. Tro-tro from Shai Hills did not go into Ashaiman Station, so they passed me to a second tro-tro that spent most of the time stopped in traffic in Ashaiman. First tro-tro did not charge; second charged 60 pesewas. We stopped by a tro-tro going straight to Accra, which probably would have made more sense (ie, go to 37 & then backtrack to Legon).

2. Ashaiman to Madina (2.40 cedis). Leaves from middle of station; quick trip on Tena highway.

Total return travel time: just over 2 hrs.

Total cost: 37.90 cedis (exchange rate USD = 2.10, $18 USD)

Shai Hills was nicer than I remembered, but that might be because I've spent very will time out in nature here. Still, 5 hrs exhausting travel time for 2 hr hike is a bit unbalanced.

Bradt is the best guide book; Lonely Planet is just way too thin.

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