The Women are Coming to Washington

New Orleans    The number of bus permits issued for the Women’s March in Washington on the Saturday after the Inauguration has passed 1800 and reportedly all the seats on Amtrak between DC and New York City are booked. Police and other city officials, rather than the march organizers, are saying that from their experience, the numbers will exceed the 200,000 estimated in the march permit.

One-thousand fewer bus permits have been issued for Inauguration Day itself, yet the Metro, the DC subway, is running a rush hour schedule from 4 AM until on that date. On the Saturday of the march despite the huge expected crowd, they have thus far announced that they are only running a normal Saturday schedule beginning at 7 AM. I talked to two young women planning to attend who are planning to drive in on a Thursday in the middle of the night just to beat the crowds and are debating exit plans for Saturday afternoon. One of the co-owners of the bar next to Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude surprised me by saying she was absolutely going to attend.

In the age of Trump, if these are the kinds of crowd estimates coming into the nation’s capital then it won’t be long before the Chamber of Commerce starts to apply a multiplier for how much the tourism and visitor revenue delivers to the city. Mass protest may become big business.

It’s not just DC. There are local marches popping up everywhere.

There are four marches in super-red state Wyoming in Cody, Cheyenne, Sheridan, and Casper. In Montana, over two-thousand women have signed up on a Facebook page that they are marching in-state so that they can be heard. In New Orleans there is a women’s march on Saturday at 3PM, and events throughout the state. They even have a name for this spreading phenomena: sister marches.

And, that’s not all. More than twenty countries are listed as having marches to show solidarity and stand with American women from Australia to the Netherlands to our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. I was surprised not to see Google ads, jumping on the website for comfortable shoes!

God knows what the new President and Tweeter-in-Chief will have to say, but who cares, really.

Solidarity, sisterhood, resistance or whatever you want to call it. The issue is not whether or not Trump is President, but is more about the world being assured that human rights, all rights are important to Americans.

In this case, women are going to lead. There’s an opportunity for all of us to follow.

***

Please enjoy Sheryl Crow with Burt Bacharach Dancing with Your Shadow

Thanks to KABF.

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Three Treats on the Yucatan Peninsula

hanging bridge over mangrove forest

New Orleans   I’ve always wanted to visit the historic Mayan archeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, and if my father was still alive they would be on the top of my list of descriptions when he would ask, as he often did in his later years, that I tell him those things he would most like to know about where I had visited. I would also tell him more about industrial tourism than he would want to know from the rental car rip-offs to the hawkers at Chichen Itza to the weird way the airport disgorges arrivals to the industry, while offering no services, yet runs a mall on departures to get the your peso.

Besides the awe and wonder of the pyramids, there are a couple of special treats that I would share with him, and you, were you to visit, though it is unlikely that I will go again.

cactus growing up a tree

At the top of my personal list would be Jardin Botanico Doctor Alfredo Varrera Marin. My tribe and I like botanical gardens. Wherever we visit, if we can, we go to get a sense of the local flora and a private window into how the local culture sees their environment. We’ve visited such gardens all around the world from Amsterdam to London to our personal favorite in Rio de Janeiro and scores of others as well, so we know a little bit about what we’re talking about here. The Jadin Botanico is almost invisible right off the highway south of Puerto Morales, which also was one of the few beach towns we found that had not been totally industrialized yet, but, sadly, we’re sure it will be in another decade. The garden is 65 hectares with two kilometers worth of trails. It took us a bit more than an hour to navigate all of the main stops, though we wished we had had more time. The garden is well organized and immaculately maintained down to a leaf blower on the main trail, but natural at the same time as you walk in silence over roots and rocks on the paths. The signage is excellent, trees and plants are well labeled and overall the garden highlights sections for ferns, orchids, palms, succulents, and so forth, including observation towers that allow you to climb up and see this last stretch of mangrove and natural forest between Cancun and Playa del Carmen all the way to the sea, and leave the tower on a swaying wood and wire, hanging bridge. The garden has politics, too, including an excellent and educational look at chiclet production using some of the harvested trees they found and elucidating the lives and work of the chicleteros. There was also a Mayan altar found in the forest that allowed them to explore the issues there as well. Not surprisingly, we found that the garden was maintained by a women’s collective from a city much farther down the peninsula. We loved having the entire garden to ourselves, though we hope others find it in the future.

chiclet tree…X’s are the cuts to drain the sap to make the gum and not kill the tree

at Lagartos

We had left our morning at Chichen Itza and driven more than an hour and a half that day to the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve. The town Rio Lagartos is at the eastern end of the coastal strip of the Yucatan Peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico at its northern edge. We didn’t take one of the many small motorboats where guides would get closer into the biosphere, but we loved the town and had our best meal of the trip sitting on a balcony eating fresh seafood in a steady breeze and watching pink flamingos through my binoculars across the water as they fed along the shore. Gorgeous and wild. Pelicans swooped down along with other birds and pairs of kites, the birds, not the plastic with string and tail, flew over us constantly. Although the guide books all say that you will see crocodiles, they are just confused because lagartos, meaning lizard, was originally what the Spanish called alligators to distinguish them from crocodiles, which they knew from Egypt and Africa, and in fact el lagartos became the English word, alligators, when Florida changed hands between the Spanish and the British, and the Spanish began using caimen in order not to confuse alligators for lizards which we find in the Grand Caymen Islands for example. Regardless, a deep dive into the biosphere might be one of the few treats that would bring me back to the Yucatan.

at Lagartos

at Lagartos

Last on my personal list was a trip at 6 am on the Punta SAM ferry from Isla de Mujeres to Cancun to fly back home. Leaving nothing to chance, we were second in line, arriving just before 5 AM, as the rope was lowered on a Saturday morning, knowing that if we missed the predawn trip, we would miss out flight home. The fast track for tourists is the passenger-only ferry at Puerto Juarez. This is a working ferry. There were already trucks parked and waiting overnight who were the main business of the boat. The dozen or so passenger cars and pickups were almost an afterthought to the big rigs. For an hour we were part of the islands’ community. The ticket collector put out instant coffee, Styrofoam cups, and constantly refilled hot water, and we joined the drivers in stirring a cup in the darkness of the predawn, as they chatted and joked, and in some cases woke from the seats of their trucks, while waiting to cross the water to work. The ferry crew managed to whistle and cajole the trucks and our few cars into the tight spaces for the 40 odd minute ride over. Even without a car, just being part of this, watching the loading, and the beauty of the sea crossing would be worth the trip form Punta SAM and a feeling of the authenticity of the island, before tourism overwhelmed it.

looking over the side as Isla de Mujeres shore retreats

My daughter would add snorkeling and swimming in a cenote, and if I had done either, they might be on this list as well, but the Mayan ruins and these three treats were more than enough for me and my companera.

close fits

working cargo

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Trouble in Paradise as Industrial Tourism Denies Beach Access on Yucatan Peninsula

beach from Tulum ruins

Puerto Aventuras  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Wade, chill, you’re on vacation, dude, calmate! Sorry, that’s just not me, and, mi companeros y companeras, there’s big trouble in paradise.

Driving from Cancun to Puerto Morelosnot San Morelos to Puerto Aventuras to Tuluum along Mexican highway 305 from the minute one heads south we saw one outlandish Las Vegas style grand arch or entryway after another at countless resorts and gated communities towards the east and the Caribbean. What we did not see was any entry to the beach. That seemed strange.

We looked it up. As one authority after another stated: “The Mexican Constitution decrees all beaches to be publicly-accessible federal property and, as such, people have right of access to them anytime. There are some legal exceptions to the access rule, most notably, beaches classed or reserved for military use.”

We first took a peek at San Morelos, formerly a small fishing village hardly 30 kilometers south of Cancun. There was public access several places and though we saw many signs that this community was being “discovered,” the town was still approachable. In our small pueblo of Puerto Aventuras, the only access to the water was through a resort of the same name with a gate and guard in front. We asked our host where we could get to the water, and he said 20 kilometers down the road at Akumul. We did manage to get to the beach there, but it was on the sneak after bogarting our way past the private parking and the beach side condos where we found a small pocket park and finally just walked through a condo-plex to get there. Could we have gotten away with it if we were locals, no way! In Tulum, we asked a small restaurant where we were having sopa de mariscos how could we get to the beach, and he told us we could buy lunch at one of the restaurants, and they would let us in. After I told the waiter, but “We’re having lunch with you,” he just shrugged and smiled.

Azumal Beach on Yucatan

Turns out this is an area of huge contention, though largely hidden from the industrial tourism purveyors and those they serve. Tamar Diane Wilson in her book, The Economic Life of Mexican Beach Vendors, pulls no punches, calling it “socio-spatial apartheid.” Writing about Cancun itself she says the only way a native would see the water was “from a bus window, a kitchen, an unkempt hotel room, or the prism of some other subservient role.”

With some pride we found that some of our neighbors, even in Puerto Aventuras, had been part of beach protests in recent years. An EL UNIVERSAL article in October 2014 reported that:

“Local and federal lawmakers of the PRD requested the intervention of the Human Rights Commission in Quintana Roo and at national level, so that they issue an order to the authorities to demand that concessionaires at private businesses stop the illegal blockades that prevent residents of Cancun and Riviera Maya from enjoying the public beaches.

The councilor of the municipality of Solidaridad, Laura Beristain, also mentioned the recent blockade of access to Punta Esmeralda beach in Playa del Carmen or the protests of residents of Akumal and Puerto Aventuras in Riviera Maya due to the closure of access Public to the beaches.

Sadly, we have to report that more than two years later, the beaches are still blocked and this “socio-spatial apartheid” is still in full force and preventing Mexicans who live on the Peninsula from enjoying the natural resource and pleasure of these beautiful beaches that are their patrimony, while the law itself and their constitutional rights are being ignored with impunity.

Azumal Beach on Yucatan

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Water is Still a Big Issue on Yucatan Peninsula

Cenote at Chichen Itza

Puerto Aventuras   Visiting Tulum in Quintana Roo is a breathtaking experience not so much because of the ruins, which pale compared to Chichen Itza and Uxmal, elsewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula, but because of the sweep of the blue-green ocean and the bright blue sky that surrounds what seems almost a fortress at waterside. Tulum by the books was one of the latest pyramid developments of the Mayans in the 15th century, lasting only 80 years or so after the Spanish arrival. One plaque at Tulum invited the visitor to imagine they were in the shoes of the cacique there and looking out towards the water and seeing the Spanish ships arrive for the first time. The equivalent would be somewhat like a scene from the movie, “Arrival,” as visitors from another planet suddenly were hovering over a dozen different locations on the globe.

Historians and scholars still debate exactly what caused some of the other Mayan cities to suddenly depopulate. Chichen Itza had been a major urban center of more than 90,000, so the available footprint a visitor sees now is simply a ceremonial front yard, so to speak, to what would have been a vast enterprise.

Of course I don’t know with any authority, but projecting backwards from today, access to water has to have been a huge factor. The cenotes in Chichen Itza were underground springs, easily accessed for water and ceremonial purposes, but the limestone subsurface is better at filtering water than storing mass quantities to support growing civilizations. The Yucatan Peninsula, despite the beauty of the ocean and its long coastline of beaches, high humidity, and wet rainy season is water poor.

Watchtower at Tulum on the coast

Staying in private homes in Merida and Cancun in our own stab at semi-sustainable tourism, we were given a short course in the challenges of the current water delivery system as well. In Merida, we woke to the first morning without any water. The pump had not been turned on so it was “one and done” for the first in the shower, until we could puzzle out the problem. In Cancun,  we received more instruction. There the water came from the street, provided at a cost from the city, like all public water systems, but filled a ground level cistern of sorts and had to be pumped up to the roof where a black plastic tank, ubiquitous throughout the Yucatan, held 1500 liters of water. If drained and not refilled automatically, we were shown where to restart the pump. The general level plain of the peninsula, described everywhere inaccurately as “flat as a tortilla,” meant that to access sufficient gravity for the water to be used below the roof, it had to be gotten there in the first place. It also means that the responsibility for water ends at the street curb. When a pump goes out, it has to be replaced. When a hurricane hits and there’s no power, then there’s also a crisis in the availability of potable water.

A quick look at the internet turns up reports from twenty years ago up to recently that point out the emerging water crisis on the Yucatan as population has exploded since the advent of industrial tourism and its supporting service worker population. Add to that problem, according to the United Nations, uncontested by Mexico, 70% of the underground water in the country is polluted in one way or another, and the issue intensifies. In Puerto Aventuras, we have been about the only representatives from Gringolandia over our week here and while walking we passed the water treatment facility in this town of 6000 people or so, the second largest in the Solidaridad Municipality of the state of Quintana Roo, yet we were of course warned by our host, unnecessarily, not to drink the water.

It’s a safe bet that the early Mayans knew the value of water, perhaps more preciously even than the modern inhabitants of this beautiful area, but water continues to be the delimiting and irreplaceable resource, even if little seems to be done about its conservation and protection, where it’s water, water everywhere, but increasingly coming to the point where there’s not a drop to drink.

Water tank system in Puerto Aventuras

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Picking on the Populists

Taupe — Mexican speed bump

Merida   The original Peoples’ Party organizers and leaders more than 130 years ago who built a mass movement, called appropriately then, “populists,” would be rolling over in their graves if they could hear and read the sins being committed in their names today. Not that they would be surprised, because there was never a time that they got a good press in the United States except in papers that they organized and published themselves. Despite all of the confusion both in the United States and around the world about what a populist is – or was – it used to be simpler: populists stood with the people against the elites and big business. No matter how little we understand the world today here and abroad, let’s at least get the history straight.

All sorts of folks are trying to explain populism today in the wake of the right wing surge in the US and Europe, not so much hiding behind the banner as trying to fit the label to size. John Judis, a journalist I’ve long read, took a shot in a recent book, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, at looking a movements left and right, old and new, foreign and domestic. I was disappointed in the book. It had the feel of one of those write-it-quick-and-get-it-to-the-booksellers current event things, and at 182 pages, at best it can’t pretend to be much more than a quick survey of the scene.  Judging by the great reviews I read after breezing through his treatment, it must have met a need, sort of the way snacks serve when you don’t have the time or money for a real meal. If only Lawrence Goodwyn, author of great classic, The Populist Moment, had not passed away three years ago, we might have had something meatier to sate the hunger many have to understand this moment and that movement.*

Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times about Populism: Real and Phony” doesn’t care much about the history books, but at least scores some points in his comparison of Trump-style populism with some of the Euro-brand, noting that at least in Poland and Hungary the poor and the working class got some benefits, writing,

…the movement that’s about to take power here isn’t the same as Europe’s far-right movements. It may share their racism and contempt for democracy; but European populism is at least partly real, while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening. 

Still somehow racism and nationalism becomes the hair shirts populists are routinely forced to wear.

I’ll admit to being sensitive about all of this. I found reading and thinking about the US populist movement an inspiration decades ago as a younger organizer. On a personal level my great grandfather on my mother’s side was elected a state legislator from Kosciusko, Mississippi on the Populist Party line, as a firebrand local populist newspaper editor. He was famous in our family’s history when my grandmother and great aunt would tell the story of taking meals to him in jail when the authorities were sorting out his claims of self-defense after killing the sheriff in a gun fight after he took offense at one of the paper’s  stories.

We need some new terminology. Let’s let the populists rest in peace.

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Boulders Still on the Road Forward for Standing Rock

New Orleans    The headlines on the progressive websites have been big and bold and heralded that “Resistance Works” in the wake of the delay won this week in construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Oahe Reservoir, the subject of massive protests by the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters. The websites are right – protests did work.

But, it was more than simple protests. What worked was a massive and entrenched show of force in the face of a confrontation that clearly no one on either side really wanted, no matter how much some of the fire breathers from the sheriff’s office and elsewhere might have wanted to provoke conflict and violence. The prospect of violence was likely a bigger threat than any slogans on protest signs.

The scale shifted decidedly in favor of the protestors when groups mobilizing veterans to support the Standing Rock Sioux announced that they would arrive coinciding with the state’s attempt to close the park where much of the encampment was located. The million dollars raised by the veterans on GoFundMe’s website was a serious statement. They claimed that 2000 veterans had signed up, and they were disciplined and talking tough. News accounts indicated that certainly 250 actually did come for sure and likely more where there, but by that time the Army Corp of Engineers had finally blinked, likely with a huge shove from the White House and denied the permit at least for now.

The pictures of the protests and reports from the field were heroic. This all looks like a modern day Valley Forge with protestors hunkered down and flag waving the snow. The mounted horsemen are dramatic. The symbols are stark. The Indians are resolute. And, truth to tell, they all look freezing cold and miserable! Winter in North Dakota is no one’s idea of a vacation spot in December. This is serious business.

Equally sobering is the flimsy feeling of the victory, since temporary is stamped all over it. The North Dakota congressman says build, baby, build. President-elect Trump has said he’s for finishing the job. He’s even interviewing oil company executives these days for jobs like Secretary of State for goodness sakes. Environmental lawyers said they would sue over any re-issuance of the permit, and the demands for a complete environmental study looking at alternatives is still reasonable and right. The head of the tribe played the situation perfectly by saying he looked forward to having an opportunity to make the case for rerouting the pipeline to Trump when possible.

A standing party will likely maintain the encampment through the winter until spring. Better weather will offer the opportunity to revive the support, because this fight could become iconic as the delays stretch from months into potential years. Even the pipeline builders with enough time may want to reroute just to be done with the job so that they can see the oil coursing through the pipes and collect their final paychecks.

A battle may have been won, but not the war. There’s a whole lot more fighting that will have to be done before all of us can count coup on another pipeline project.

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