Letters 12-05-2016

Trump going back on promises I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve been conned by our new president. He’s backpedaling on nearly every campaign promise he made to us...

This Christmas, think before you speak Now that Trump has won the election, a lot of folks who call themselves Christians seem to believe they have a mandate to force their beliefs on the rest of us. Think about doing this before you start yelling about people saying “happy holidays,” whining about Starbucks coffee cup image(s), complaining about other’s lifestyles…

First Amendment protects prayer (Re: Atheist Gary Singer’s contribution to the Crossed column titled “What will it take to make America great again?” in the Nov. 21 edition of Northern Express.) Mr. Singer, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

Evidence of global warming Two basic facts underlay climate science: first, carbon dioxide was known to be a heat-trapping gas as early as 1850; and second, humans are significantly increasing the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. We are in fact well on our way to doubling the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere...

Other community backpack programs I just read your article in the Nov. 28 issue titled “Beneficial backpacks: Two local programs help children.” It is a good article, but there are at least two other such programs in the Traverse City area that I am aware of...

A ‘fox’ in the schoolhouse Trump’s proposed secretary of education, Betsy DeVos (“the fox” in Dutch), is a right-wing billionaire; relentless promoter of unlimited, unregulated charter schools and vouchers; and enemy of public schooling...

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On the road with an Irish Pirate/Ramor Ryan

Holly Wren Spaulding - May 17th, 2007
In anticipation of his appearance in Traverse City next week, Irish author Ramor Ryan took time out to talk about his new book, Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile, life in a conflict zone, and his political coming of age during the embattled Ireland of the 1980s.

NE: I understand you’ve read in Ireland, England, Germany, Mexico, New York, San Francisco — we’re lucky to make it onto your tour.
Ramor Ryan: I have to say that I have wanted to visit Traverse City for many years, as I have very special connections with the community there!

NE: You’ve been living outside Ireland for much of your life—do you feel at home somewhere else, or are you essentially foreign wherever you find yourself?
Ryan: I’m never certain whether the journey is towards home, or the journey is home, but at this point, the notion of home is not represented by a physical space. The worrying precariousness of that is measured by the incandescent weightlessness of the transient, semi-nomadic life. Despite having lived the last few years predominantly in Chiapas (Mexico), the place itself feels no more home than a ship’s port. Where is home? I suppose my physical home is where my hat is. My heart’s home is where my beloved four-year-old boy is, but the guiding trajectory of the last 20 years is that home is amongst the radical community: home is amongst those who struggle.

NE: So there is a tension, right? Is that the condition of being an exile?
Ryan: Especially when one chooses conflict zones as I seem to have a propensity to do, yeah.

NE: Your book made me think I should catch a ride on the high seas. Do you find that your readers are especially responsive to certain stories or ideas?
Ryan: One reader wrote that she found throughout the book a re-surfacing of her own history, like a map of where she had been. I liked that because it fed into the initial impulse I had to write – to articulate collective experiences, and to communicate. Eduardo Galeano has written that “Our writing is informed by a desire to make contact, so that readers become involved with words that come to us from them, and return to them as hope and prophecy.” Mostly people write that the stories awaken the desire to go forth and engage life, to take a chance with things.

NE: What is your affinity with pirates?
Ryan: Well, it’s the sea, of course, roaming the great oceans populated by romantic and rakish raconteurs; outlaws, the seductive sense of wild, tumultuous freedom. One pirate described it as “Life on a pirate ship was mostly drunken idleness, with brief periods of violent action”, which always appealed more to me than say, working in insurance.
The first pirate I learned of was the famous Irish pirate queen Granuaile, whose island refuge was visible off the coast from my mother’s home in County Mayo. Tales of Granuaile’s exploits filled my youthful fancies in the intimate sense that she was born amongst us, a local folk heroine. Now she’s on Broadway, of course, a big star like Peter Pan or someone. Our Granuaile was a rebel, a Robin Hood of sorts; she wasn’t an unsavory character at all – actually I’d say she was quite a role model!

NE: There has been a conflict between the Mexican government and the indigenous people of the region for the whole time you have lived in Chiapas. What is it like to be in the midst of that?
Ryan: Of course the point of the State’s “low intensity conflict” is that it keeps the population on edge and creates a climate of fear, like in New York City where everyone remains edgy with the constant terror alerts.
Here in Chiapas, the impact is visible via the saturation of government troops throughout the conflict zone and the more insidious tactic of creating divisions amongst the indigenous communities and zones under rebel Zapatista control.
So on top of the usual stress of trying to scrape a living, bring up families and dealing with the high level of insecurity and crime typical of any impoverished area, the people here have to deal with the counter-insurgency conditions too. It’s very tough, psychologically, and these repressive conditions have remained constant since 1994, the year of the initial Zapatista uprising, which is what interested me in the place to begin with.
NE: What is a rebel zone, practically speaking?
Ryan: These are the autonomous regions of Chiapas, covering an area about the size of the state of Connecticut—mainly rural backlands and jungle, encompassing several hundred thousand people.
The population governs itself through a regional network of autonomous municipal councils, made up of a rotating assembly of community members. The council assemblies deal with all aspects of daily life in the communities - land issues, justice issues, education and health, as well as distribution of resources. There is no presence of the federal Mexican state, whom the people decided were not operating in their interests. “We don’t want the racist, repressive Mexican state here,” they said in the armed uprising of 1994. “We can govern ourselves better, according to our own traditions and customs.” And they have proved it with thriving autonomous municipalities 13 years later.

NE: Who are your literary influences?
Ryan: Despite 800 years of colonization—or perhaps because of it—there is one great privilege in being born Irish: the wealth of our literary heritage. I have grown up reading Joyce, Yeats, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde and the whole pantheon. Camus provided a continental perspective—existential and satisfyingly bleak.
As I spread my wings, I found Latin American magical realism—the likes of Isabel Allende and Gioconda Belli. Eduardo Galeano and Arundhati Roy, both of them politically engaged writers, accompany my every written word, as well as the Zapatista Communiqués of Sub-Comandante Marcos, which take engaged literature to another level of praxis. Does Uncle Noam (Chomsky) count as literature?! I’m reading John Ross’s Murdered By Capitalism at the moment, and love it – Oh to be as erudite as that inspired man!

NE: Were there stories when you were growing up that especially shaped you?
Ryan: One of my earliest memories is of being brought to Dublin city centre for the day by my big sister. A huge car bomb set by pro-British terrorists went off, killing a dozen shoppers a couple of blocks from where we strolled. I remember dreaming of that explosion a lot afterwards and it haunted my boyhood imagination.
Later, the great hunger strike of 1981– when 10 young republican political prisoners starved themselves to death to protest British criminalization of their struggle – loomed large on my horizon. As an adolescent this had a profound effect on me. Why were they doing this? Why were they political prisoners? What was the great narrative absorbing the nation and of which these 10 young men were central stage? Why was everyone out in the streets, marching and protesting and rioting? It was impossible not to get caught up in it all.

NE: The political landscape has shifted dramatically in the last few years, whereto with people’s struggles now?
Ryan: The political trajectory in Clandestines maps the shift of focus in the progressive movement during the ‘90s from anti-imperialism to anti-globalization, representing the change of focus from the state to transnational corporations. The Bush regime has of course reignited the state’s imperial drive with his military expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Anti-war struggle remains the most poignant space of contestation in the U.S.

NE: This book is a sort of odyssey, a record of a vibrant era, but it is also an invitation, no?
Ryan: An invitation, I think, using a popular phrase, to be a Zapatista wherever you are!

NE: There must be an extra incentive to live a vital, inquisitive life, thereby generating material for your writing.
Ryan: Well in that sense, I think my book Clandestines was a bit accidental and unconscious! Having finally ground to a halt after years on the road (nest building while awaiting the arrival of my son Ixim), I found I had some time and space to write. To reflect upon lived experience. “The overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recalled in tranquility,” as Wordsworth described his writing process. The Institute of Anarchist Studies kindly gave me a bit of money, and so the book tumbled out. I was hoping to share my experiences of various radical and revolutionary movements and moments with others. It’s not really meant to be about my life, but about the lives I’ve had the fortune of encountering.

Read Ramor’s blog at: http://ramorx.blogspot.com/ Ramor Ryan reads at Horizon Books in Traverse City, Monday, May 21 at 7 p.m. He’ll appear at the Inside Out Gallery on May 26, 7 p.m.
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