The Day After Pee Wee Herman Died


The Day After Pee Wee Herman Died 

Trump was indicted in Washington D.C.
The day after Pee Wee Herman died

Two shots of Tequila
One for Pee wee
The other for this political moment

Can I dance on my toes like I meant to do that?

Just mesmerized by the coverage.

I’m having Nixon flashbacks

The  inner child in me
That only understood Watergate as an emotional pastiche
Is being introduced to the grown man following the  coverage of this event
On multiple computer screens
Like a super villain

The paradox that returning citizens can’t vote
After paying their debt to society
But, Trump can run for President with pending charges
In multiple jurisdictions
And pay for his lawyers
With $40,000,000 from his political action committee

The argument that there are two tiers of Justice in America
One for him and one against him

And the promise that he will kill American democracy
Like the cancer that consumed Paul Reubens.

Can we ever be vindicated of he who claims to be
Retribution Vengeance and Vindication itself?

The man who Tweeted from D.C. Playhouse
With a host of loonies as his supporting cast
Who tried to steal Democracy in broad daylight
Broadcast from the mountains
To the Prairies
To the oceans white with foam

Until Democracy became a McGuffin
In Mango Mussolini’s quest for personal
And dynastic power
Featuring Jarad “I want to be a real boy” Kushner
And Ivanka “Why does daddy stare at me” Trump

While his enablers just stared like Pee Wee Herman
In the middle row of an adult movie theater
As American Democracy was transformed
Into MAGA Pornography

Jack Smith come as Justice vindicator of democracy
Ready to engage all conspirators and co-conspirators
All of these miscreants are under One Law
Stay your hand no longer

You are only striking corpses.

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)
(Image Credit: José Clement Orozco, “The Demagogue” / Artvee

Hope in a time of choler: A South African court shall not shut the mouth of the media


In 2010, a new South African investigative journalist project, amaBhungane, was founded. In isiZulu, amaBhungane means dung beetle. Their slogan is DIGGING DUNG, FERTILISING DEMOCRACY. This week the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, confirmed not only the work of amaBhungane but also the importance of investigative journalism to the work of democracy. The case involves amaBhungane and its reporting on the Moti Group, a South African conglomerate with extensive international holdings.

The story in a nutshell: amaBhungane received files concerning the Moti Group. In late April and early May, amaBhungane published three articles exposing attempts by the Moti Group and its owner, Zunaid Moti, to cozy up to the leadership in Zimbabwe as well as to surreptitiously influence an employee at Investec who was charged with protecting the bank against the Moti Group’s quickly expanding debt. The Moti Group immediately launched a campaign to silence, and ultimately crush, amaBhungane. On June 1, the Moti Group went to court, on an ex parte and in camera basis, meaning the proceedings were behind closed doors and amaBhungane was not allowed to attend. The judge issued a gag order and told amaBhungane to return all leaked documents, by this time known as the #MotiFile. On June 3, amaBhungane went to court. They were allowed to retain the documents, which, by the way, they did not actually have possession of, but the gag order remained until a further court hearing. That hearing occurred June 27, in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, with Judge Roland Sutherland. Judge Sutherland issued his ruling yesterday, “a scathing rebuke for the Moti Group and its lawyers” as well as for the lower court.

Judge Sutherland decreed that there was no compelling reason for an ex parte and in camera hearing. He went further and declared that holding such a proceeding was a violation of all juridical procedure as well as an assault on judicial integrity, journalistic freedom, justice and democracy. The decision has been hailed far and wide. Needless to say, the Moti Group continues to spin the results and promises to continue its campaign against amaBhungane.

While many note Judge Sutherland’s step by step evisceration of the Moti Group’s arguments for secrecy, Judge Sutherland was clear to explain that the role of the media is critical to the functioning of democracy: “A South African court shall not shut the mouth of the media unless the fact specific circumstances convincingly demonstrate that the public interest is not served by such publication. This is likely to be rare.”

In 2010, amaBhungane chose as its slogan, DIGGING DUNG, FERTILISING DEMOCRACY. In February 2017, the Washington Post started using that line, “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its slogan, its first slogan in its then 140-year existence. The Post credited Bob Woodward with the line, and Woodward credited Judge Damon J. Keith, who had presided over a First Amendment case in 2002, Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft. In 2021, that decision was cited in South Africa, in a decision by the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, in which the Open Secrets and the Unpaid Benefits Campaign sued the government for cancelling pensions and withholding access to information: “In Detroit Free Press v John Ashcroft, the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit held that: `Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately …When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.’ The reason being is that `in darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing.’  It is for that reason that the Constitutional Court has stated that openness is the default position, and it refuted an approach that proceeded from a position of secrecy. The principle of open justice is an incident of the values of openness, accountability, and the rule of law. Included in this is the notion of a participatory democracy. These are the foundational values upon which our Constitution is based, and which are entrenched therein.” The lessons of democracy, of preserving and strengthening democracy, travel, quickly. This week, the courts of South Africa are teaching the world a thing or two about keeping the lights of democracy on and bright.

(by Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: Smithsonian) (Image Credit 2: amaBhungane)

The Chaos of Germinating Seeds

The Chaos of Germinating Seeds

Sometimes dreaming is so exhausting that you have to wake up

Punarmṛtyu — dying again

Punarjanma — and again being born

This guest house of opening and closing one’s eyes
Is like the  opening and closing of a banned book that must be read and digested

cover to cover

To get at the mental nutrition between its covers,

Milk does not come from bottles
It comes from the stars

Nor does butter come from waxen sanitary coverings

Samurdra Manthan — churn the cosmic ocean of milk

and remember: all that is  golden comes from super novas.

Love is neither easy nor natural
It requires work like the churning of milk to separate butter

Or, churning the cosmos to produce this moment.

And speaking of unconditional love
Is like dreaming of churning butter
Without knowing how to actually milk a cow.

Love is the sun darkened necks and chapped hands of farmers

The Forgotten

In our silicon chip facilitated frictionless virtual and virtueless worlds

Where lies can grow faster than the best genetically modified food grains

The chaos of germinating seeds

The arhythmic bursting of husks

Rice shaken and thrown into the air and the breeze takes the chaff

I’m not singing about Shamballha
I sing of America

Wisconsin corn

Arkansas Rice

Kansas wheat

We fly over these states without even saying a thank you

Or saying our grace

O, Embodiments of Sandburg-ian songs
O, Golden husk covered food grains that if thrashed could feed all of our tomorrows

Let me take you into my body so that I can be
Strong enough to both plant
And harvest you

To be strong enough to help America live up
To all of its broken promises.

Hidden beneath the rotted roses and wreaths of heroes
Men and women who have offered their lives for a dream

Democracy slumbers waiting to be reawakened, rediscovered

And reborn.

It is a field in which an enemy has sewn weeds

Do we have the Nazarene grace to separate the weeds from the tares?

Upāya— the skillful means

Can we grow ever larger to include

Martin’s Dream

Gandhi’s Dream

Malcolm’s dream

Baldwin’s dreams

Nina Simone’s Dream

Zora Neale Hurston’s Dream

Maya Angelou’s Dream

Toni Morrison’s Dream

And every other thinker on a list of banned books

In spite of the

Old time American revival tours

Militant generals using Jesus as a weapon

Churches used as MAGA gun emplacements

And the politicians who take our heroes and she-roes names in vain
But won’t allow us to study about them in our schools

Let me be hot pepper and lemon juice squeezed into our culture’s soured milk
And salvage what seems to have gone wrong
With the grace of a mother making yogurt and curds

All milk products aren’t sweet
And all sweet things aren’t good for you

Let the sour, the spicy, and the bitter all abide together
To form something new and unexpected.

Another poem like this?
And another one?
and another one?

This Groundhog’s day contemplation
Let me work Until I get it right.

I salute the epic, dramatic, and inevitable round of this lifetime
And humankind’s role within it

Maybe we will finally learn compassion
By killing enough curlews blithely flying while melodiously singing

Murdering enough deer in the midst of amorous love sport

Bombing enough children in Ukrainian apartment complexes

Shooting enough people when they least expect it

And killing enough young men in our streets under the color of law

The proof of our living as sages would be the simple ability for us to live well together while still disagreeing.

We won’t see anything new;
We’ll only recognize the promises we have made to ourselves

And broken so many times

Samsara is Nirvāṇa
and Nirvāṇa is Samsara
Worlds woven together

Turn the wheel once twice then thrice
We are a part of this world
and not apart from it

And Democracy will appear on the earth

When it is no longer needed.


(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit 1: Sheila Machlis Alexander / Smithsonian Museum) (Image Credit 2: Smithsonian Museum)

Nobody is above (everyone is equal)

Nobody is above (everyone is equal)

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

the much-lampooned man
has done whatever he can

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

there are those ones
who give you the runs
(election-time they comes)

Nobody is above 
everyone is equal

an emperor-ex will serve
that which many more do deserve

Nobody is above the law
everyone is equal before

Miscreants and dictators plunder
tearing their countries asunder
(each according to their ability)

Orwell’s Animal Farm rings true 
but will it do for you 

SAFM radio’s afternoon show ends with a Ray Charles’ rendition of “Let it be”.

(By David Kapp)

(Image Credit: Sandile Goje, Making Democracy Work / Constitutional Court Art Collection)

Rohith Vemula: The rot of caste privilege and the price of a Dalit scholar’s life

Rohith Vemula

Rohith Vemula was the leader of a Dalit student organization, Ambedkar Student Association at the University of Hyderabad. He was a bright student on a scholarship in a prestigious PhD program, interested in science studies. His coursework complete, he had just received approval for his research proposal. His dream was to become a science writer like Carl Sagan.

Because of a complaint by the rival, right-wing student association ABVP’s leader N. Susheel Kumar, that he had been assaulted by Rohith and his friends, Rohith had become the target of three different investigations by local neighborhood police and the university. Starting in September 2015, the Union Minister for Human Resources Office had written three letters to the university pressuring them to take action against Rohith and four other ASA members. One faculty member asked, why these investigations about a minor student-student altercation were so drawn out: why was it not settled swiftly? After all, the doctor who examined the claim to assault by the ABVP student said he had one small bruise on his body and did not show any signs of assault.

The altercation was politicized from the start. The ABVP is allied to the RSS, an extremist Hindu nationalist organization popular with upper-caste Hindu communities, whose political arm is the BJP (the political party currently in power in India). India’s largest student union, the ABVP has in recent years been known for disrupting campus dialogue on Kashmir (Pune), secularism, and, at Rohith’s campus, the ASA’s screening of a film on Hindu-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar in north India. The scuffle involved both ABVP and ASA students when the latter had demanded an apology for the disruption. Only five ASA students were singled out and suspended in August 2015 by the university.

Subject to three institutional investigations, suspended from the university for seven months while these were ongoing, Rohith’s situation kept worsening. His scholarship was withheld for these seven months, a terrible financial hardship for him and his poor family, which earlier subsided largely on his mother’s daily wage labor of sewing and tailoring. Following three letters from the Ministry of Human Resource Development urging action against these five students, on 16 December 2015, these student-activists were expelled from their dorm, and barred from entering administrative buildings and shared spaces on campus, such as the library. This institutionalized discriminatory treatment in the very educational institution that is supposed to enshrine equal and democratic rights, was part of his long experience of discrimination, “in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.” As he wrote in his suicide note, “Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made of star dust.”

Denied dignity and human rights, Rohith and the four other expelled students launched a 14-day sleep-in strike to protest their treatment. On the fourth day of this strike, Rohith died, gently asserting, in what Manash Bhattacharjee notes is the clarity of a suicide note, “Do not shed tears for me. I am happy dead than alive.”

Following the suicide and related media protests across India, the suspension of the other four Dalit students was reversed. Only proving Rohith’s suggestion, that his birth as a Dalit drove the harassment he faced; though not just that, but also the fact that he spoke up as a Dalit subject, as an activist, and he exercised his constitutional rights of free speech, because he thought he lived in a democracy. But he spoke up in a political climate that has become increasingly inhospitable to dissident voices, be they Muslim, Dalit, secularist, or feminist. His treatment violated the equality promised in our constitution, and his young life was lost needlessly, as Ananya Vajpeyi writes, “to our eternal shame.”

Rohith’s mother has rejected the state’s offered payment of INR 8,00,000 (US$ 11,838) as compensation for Rohith’s death. Given the withholding of the stipends that would have paid for food and living expenses, and driving him to suicide, this seems like a cruel joke. She demands that the politicians and officials involved be held accountable and responsible for driving him to this.

Rohit Venkatramakrishnan has written that Rohith’s death indicts us all. When death or the risk of death seems happier than life to a young student in Hyderabad, or Syria, or a young Buddhist monk in Tibet, we are looking at a deeply traumatic, and multi-layered historical experience of persistent cruelty, violence, dispossession, and dehumanization. Rohith’s death is an indictment not only of the society, but also of the state and its Delhi ministries, that failed to protect the dignity and human rights of some of India’s most vulnerable citizens. In 2016, this points to a crisis in caste relations, minority experience, and inequality in India that needs to be addressed now, by all of us.


(Photo Credit: The Indian Express)

Migrant and immigrant women workers want democracy, too!

Can migrant and immigrant workers demand democracy, and if they do, who will listen? This question arises, again, out of the news coverage of the Hong Kong protests, which has demonstrated an ambivalence, if not an anxiety, about where immigrant domestic workers fit in, or not, in the Umbrella Revolution. At heart, the problem is that many find it difficult to understand that migrant and immigrant women workers, domestic workers, “helpers” want it all: decent work, dignity, and democracy.

Hong Kong boasts one of the highest densities of domestic workers in the world. The overwhelming majority are Filipina and Indonesian. They are famously underworked, overpaid, and often suffer the full gamut of abuse. They are also organized, into various national-ethnic associations as well as into pan-Asian domestic workers’ associations, most notably the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body. Typically, the “news” about these women is [1] a story of abuse, [2] a story of seeking higher wages, [3] a story of getting slightly higher wages, and then the cycle begins again.

Abuse and wages pretty much cover the “domestic worker” front. And that’s why the Occupy Hong Kong protests have caused a ripple in the surface of the common sense. Where are the maids in Occupy Hong Kong? Where are domestic workers in the struggle for democracy?

Everywhere: “On 29 September, the first day of the general strike, unions representing dock workers, bus drivers, beverage workers, social workers, domestic workers, migrant domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, radio producers, and teachers took to the streets. They are not only protesting against the police suppression of the students. They are not only campaigning for universal suffrage. They are also demonstrating a more down-to-earth wish: social justice.”

Domestic workers, like 60-year-old Filipina domestic worker Vicky Casia, understand that political as well as economic wealth and well being in Hong Kong depend on the labor of migrant women workers: “We are proud of what they are doing right now. This is history. It would be another achievement for us, if soon they would also include in their fight the rights for migrant workers.”

Domestic workers were at the demonstrations, openly, proudly and happily, as their photos show. Likewise, domestic workers formally supported the protesters: “The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), is one with the people of Hong Kong in condemning the brutal response of the Hong Kong government, through its Police Force, to the protest – predominantly youth and students – calling for full universal suffrage in choosing the city’s Chief Executive … The movement for universal suffrage has been gaining steam for the past years and is further being propelled by the government’s lack of effective response to the problems besetting many of the Hong Kong people. Cuts in social service, disregard of the condition of workers, and the prioritization of the government of the interests of businesses, especially in times of crisis have contributed greatly to the desire of the HK people to have a more direct say in the election of the Chief Executive …The right of the people to assemble and protest is being wantonly violated; and activists for democratic rights cannot stand by and watch … We are one with the people of Hong Kong in the call to stop the repression against their democratic rights. We call for the immediate release of the arrested protesters. We call for the HK government to respect the people’s rights … We extend our solidarity to those who uphold the people’s rights and democracy.”

Migrant and immigrant women workers want it all: decent work, dignity, and democracy.


(Photo Credit: Varsity CHUK / Common Dreams)

The people do not celebrate Greece’s return to the debt market

On April 11 2014, Angela Merkel was welcomed by the Greek Prime Minister to celebrate the return of Greece to the official speculative bond market, which means to the free market of debt. “Capitalism is all about borrowing so psychologically and symbolically our return to the markets has been hugely important” declared a professor of economics in Greece. Whose psychological well being is he talking about?

Angela Merkel did not stay long in Greece, not even seven hours, understandably since about 7000 police officers were needed for her not to see any of the faces demonstrating because they have suffered and are still suffering from the austerity measures imposed to achieve the Greek return to the debt market.

Angela Merkel benevolently recognized, “I want to say that the government’s policies have led to many people suffering, and were very hard for the government to implement, but now we can see Greece keeping its promises, fulfilling its obligations, and the budget situation is better than we could have wished for or expected.” How does the psychological affect of the investors and gamblers in the debt economy connect with the suffering of an entire population? These policies have led to death and abject deprivation. Moreover, they triggered the rise of the fascist Golden Dawn, which has murdered fellow Greek citizens, and, sometimes working with police, has targeted immigrants who themselves were escaping violence or impoverishment.

The Greek prisons have been filled with many who were directly impacted by the austerity measures. The conditions of detention are dreadful. Certainly, sending a 90- year-old woman who has Alzheimer to jail for few thousand Euros is a great aid to the debt market economy. The country’s real debt has been the impoverishment of over 600 000 children, but who cares about children? Words seem to have different meanings whether we talk about the future of children or the future of investors.

Inserted in the neoliberal logic of a debt economy Merkel affirmed, “I firmly believe that after a very, very tough phase, this country harbors boundless possibilities still to be exploited.” Ask the cleaning women who have been fighting for their rights. They know who is going to be exploited because they already are. They understood that the “so called” labor market has been deregulated thanks to this tough phase that allowed employers to force them to sign blank contracts. They know the Greek State has organized its own defection and is now subservient to private enterprise.

Angela Merkel took the time to meet with Greek entrepreneurs but did not visit the hospitals or the schools. For example, she could have visited a social community clinic run by Sophia who would have told her, “The philosophy [of our work] is not to subsidize the state, this is not our job.” She would have explained that in Greece today there is no democracy, “Democracy is for people to live better isn’t it? With dignity, with hope for the future. That does not exist anymore!”

Why weren’t these principles of democracy praised by Angela Merkel while she was on Greek soil?

Greeks have organized, and new sites for European solidarity are being formed. New political forces are also rising and elections may change the course of the well orchestrated debt economy. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the growing Greek leftist party Syriza, has long voiced other views about the debt. In 2012, he explained, “The European citizens should know, however, that loans to Greece are paid into an `escrow’ account and are used exclusively to repay the loans and to re-capitalize near bankrupt private banks. The money cannot be used to pay salaries and pensions, or to buy basic medicine for hospitals and milk for schools … If there is a risk for taxpayers losing their money, it is created by austerity.”

The money other European nations loaned to Greece never went to the Greek people. It was just a displacement of wealth for the advancement of neoliberal finance and power. However, populations are also lost when facing this capitalist delirium. This is part of the program, and it allows policies to continue with their brutal devastation. The efforts that many in Europe thought to be made for a better future have produced misery. Greece’s unemployment is at a record high 28%. More women are unemployed than men, and women and youth make up the bulk of unemployment. The public debt is still at 177% of the GDP. 23.7% of Greeks, and 30.4% of children, are under poverty line. As Greece’s social cohesion has been swiftly ripped apart, the goals of these policies have become clear.

For many including some economists, the solution is also clear. The European Central Bank should take social responsibility and buy back the debt. It is time for the people through struggle to reclaim politics in Europe and elsewhere and thereby create the conditions for a radical transformation. Instead of falling into the trap of a standard of debt that Angela Merkel wants to celebrate with the Greek neoliberal establishment, we must celebrate our social cohesion, our community, and the promise of democracy.


(Photo Credit: / in English)

Prisoners have visitors in France and in many other European countries

Prisoners have visitors in France and in many other European countries. The prison visitors are volunteers who respond to prisoners’ requests to have visitors. As a prison visitor explained: “We are not contracted, we are not entertainers, we come to share and we don’t come to judge the act that sent this person to prison but to meet with the person who is beyond the act. The act is his or her business, our goal is that this person breaks free from the spiral of losing self esteem.”

How does it work? When a person is incarcerated, he or she is informed about the possibility of having a prison visitor assigned, and then the prisoner has to send a request to the prison authorities.  The prison visitor commits to visit the prisoner regularly. The visit is confidential, takes place in cells reserved for meetings with lawyers, and may last from 45 minutes to one hour and thirty minutes.  For the detainee, this moment with the prison visitor is one rare instant without surveillance.

The association of prison visitors, ANVP, was created in 1932 and became state approved in 1951. It presently counts over 1500 members, not enough, they say, to guarantee the ideal ratio of 1 visitor per 20 prisoners. The president of the association, himself a prison visitor, explains that they are always looking for and recruiting volunteers. The age required is between 21 and 75 years old, and it takes about 2 months to be accredited after an interview and a police background check, followed by six months of probation with more training.  The main quality expected is to be able to listen: “We are here to listen. We are the wind coming from the outside.”

For prisoners in France, the outside world continues to exist and detainees remain full citizens. As Stephanie Balandras, director of “Les Baumettes” women’s prison in Marseille, explained, prison visitors “ensure that a detainee remains a citizen”.

In a democracy, everyone with citizenship has the right to vote. In France, as in most democracies in the world, detainees retain the right to vote. The right to vote is recognized by the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe as an essential right in a democracy; its suppression is incompatible with a true democratic system of governance.

Among the 47 countries of the European Council, 19 have no restrictions on civic rights for detainees, 21 have some restrictions, mostly decided in court, and 7 states suspend the right to vote for detainees.

Meanwhile, in the United States prisoners lose their civic rights when convicted. Writing on the extension of the robotized war with the development of the American drone program, Barbara Ehrenreich quoted the US Secretary of Education who reported in 2010 that “75% of young Americans between the ages of 17 to 24 are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” As African Americans fill the American prisons, they are losing their civic rights in greater proportion than Whites. There are no prison visitors to listen to them or help them retain a sense of belonging as they are pushed further to the margins.

According to Denis Salas, “The principle of human dignity is the reference on which lies the right to bend state power.” As one prison visitor put it, this principle has to come from the outside to the inside: “The prison visitor’s objective is to make each detainee aware of her or his own riches and deficits, and to help him or her to build their own project for the future”.

Let’s imagine more prison visitors in the United States, people who would help make American prisoners more visible, retain and develop their own humanity, and have their civic rights restored.


(Image Credit: Sentencing Project)

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa

So it’s Women’s Day in South Africa, and we went down to hear a friend of mine speak at a local event. It was faintly cheering: we got to sing Malibongwe, which is the one struggle song white people can actually sing. There was clapping, and a bit of praying, which went down well. We then settled in for a desperately dull morning, in which we all bemoaned the general state of women in South Africa, and the wave, torrent, oh all right, tsunami of violence that is unleashed on us every day.


Yes, we agreed, we are dying. In fact, more than we can count, because the statistics are so unhelpful, given the level of underreporting of rape. Yes, we agreed, it’s very bad. We must fight patriarchy. We nodded our heads. Yes, indeed we must.

And speaker after speaker belaboured this, as though we had just woken up, and decided to talk about this for the first time. Lordy, it was dull. Except for one moment, one interesting electrifying moment. A woman academic, and feminist, and part of the national Commission on Gender Equality said, in one of the tightest, most frustrated voices I have ever heard, ‘We should go and stop the traffic. We should go to the nearest national road, and protest, and stop the traffic.”

And the hall of women groaned and rumbled, and it seemed like for a moment, for a flicker of time, that they would rise up as one and march, limping and dancing, out into the streets and burn things, and break things, and generally get seriously out of hand. It seemed to me that this wave of the possible reached her across the stage and she caught herself, aware of her responsibilities, and said, ‘No, not that I am suggesting violence or anything. But we must do something.’

The hall settled back down. We went to lunch. But that thought spoken aloud is still ringing in my ears.


(Photo Credit:

Malawian women said today, “The future starts now!”


The Maravi Post headline pretty much says it all, “DON’T MESS WITH MALAWI WOMEN!

But actually, today, the women of Malawi said it, and sang it, and prayed it, and danced it, and shouted it, and did it better, much better, than any headline could claim.

The story, in brief, is a familiar one, around the world. Women are attacked in a public place, allegedly for wearing `provocative’ or `untraditional’ clothes. In this instance, vendors, or `vendors’, in the two major cities of Malawi – Lilongwe and Blantyre – attacked and stripped women, ostensibly for wearing pants and mini-skirts.

Bad move. Very bad.

The news media described the incidents largely as `trouser stripping.’ The women understood otherwise. They understood the actions as violence, as violence against women, and as violence against democracy.

First, women were beaten. How do you think a crowd of men forcibly undresses a woman … especially in public? By invitation?

Second, the women know that Malawi has a history of “indecency” laws. Eighteen years ago, the so-called indecency in dress laws were repealed, partly because they were an offense to women, largely because they were part and parcel of the dictatorship of Hastings Kamuzu Banda. An attack on women, an attack on women’s clothes, is an attack on democracy. Anywhere. Even in a `conservative’ country. Just because it’s conservative doesn’t mean women give up on their democratic rights.

Instantly, women started organizing, organizing boycotts of the vendors, demands and campaigns. One such campaign is called Lelo N’kugule, Mawa Undivule? Today I buy from you, tomorrow you undress me? Others call it Venda, Ndikugule, Undibvulenso??? Vendor, I buy from you and you strip me naked?

Good question. A very good question.

Today, Friday, the women of Malawi filled the streets of Blantyre. They brought some men with them, too. Some wore t-shirts emblazoned with “PEACE”, others wore all white. Many wore trousers, some wore mini-skirts … whatever those are.

Women of Malawi today did what they have always done. They organized. They organized for autonomous spaces. Autonomous doesn’t mean separate. It means spaces in which women’s autonomy is more than respected. They spoke of democracy. They expressed outrage, not only for themselves but for the ambitions of the nation. They said, “We are all Sophie Munthali”, one of the women who was beaten and stripped.

Someone asked `the question’, that question that always gets asked in moments of mass assaults on women: “Isn’t this really about economic hardship, about difficult times?” Women’s rights activist Seodi White answered directly, “In times of instability, women are targeted.” She then went on to explain that [a] instability is no excuse, [b] violence against women is an outrage, [c] violence against women is violence against democracy.

Repeatedly, the women invoked dignity and democracy. Don’t mess with Malawi women. That’s the news story, or should be. Malawian women said today, “The future starts now!”


(Photo Credit: CNN)