Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Burning Down the House

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

When I left the house on Sunday to join a demo, it was with my notebook and camera, and not a bottle stuffed with gasoline and a rag, though it's tempting sometimes.

Do activism long enough, and sooner or later you'll wonder what good it does, the wheat-pasting and flyering, all that marching peacefully in rainy or blistering streets when the powerful seem to take no notice of you, and your progress is measured in inches if there's any at all.

On those days, I dream of a more persuasive language to push things forward. In fact, I dream of blowing things up. Admit it. The bang of a collapsing building is a far more compelling expression of rage than a strongly worded column, or even a peaceful demo with a couple of thousand people.

These days, when democracy is imposed in war, and the Olympic games are hosted in dictatorships, why not use violence in places like Colombia where queers are slaughtered like dogs? Why not fight fire with fire?

In early February, Fredys Darío Pineda, a young LGBT and human rights activist was stabbed to death and the murder dismissed as a crime of passion. February 17th, 48 year-old Alirio de Jesús García was shot three times in the face. On February 20th a dismembered body was found in a garbage bag and later identified as Víctor Julio Castro, a 39-year old gay man. And those are just the murders we know about.

March 19th, Arley Alfonso Velásquez Delgado and Marco Tulio Tagorga Gómez, two gay men who scraped out a living by scavenging were both shot -- they'd been a couple for more than 15 years. March 23rd, the 19 year-old transgendered woman, Darlyn Acevedo, was killed by a group of men. Just a week or so ago, on the night of the 28 and 29th of March, two transgendered friends, Willis Argemiro Alarcón Padilla and Erick Jesús Mendoza Cruz were both shot to death in separate incidences by a cop who went out hunting trannies.

In the face of that, it seems ridiculous to write one more petition, or even pass an anti-violence law. I am tired of mourning dead queers. Tired of trying to remember the names of dead youths like Sakia Gunn, and older ones like Alirio de Jesús García who had managed to survive almost to fifty before he was cut-down.

Besides, I'm afraid of apathy. That little voice asking why we should care at all when these murders happen in far off Colombia, or the wilds of Newark where they have so many problems anyway. If it's not your sexual identity, then drugs, poverty, or sheer bad luck will kill you. In Colombia, who can even distinguish hate crimes when murder's practically the national pastime? Better to blow something up, than sink into paralysis at the scope of the problem, right?

If only swords weren't double-edged. Cut off somebody else's nose for spite, you'll find your own missing. In Colombia, for instance, the rightist paramilitaries picking off union leaders are matched eye for eye by the brutal corrupting tactics of the left-wing FARC. In the name of revolutionary ideals they deal drugs to finance their operations. They recruits kids and kidnap and kill politicians. Their politics haven't mattered for years.

The end has been gobbled up by their means, and they mostly serve to remind us that the benefits of destruction are short-lived. You make a big, bright, satisfying noise, and then you become the mirror of your enemy.

I thought of the failure of FARC as I stood in the cold with a couple thousand other Parisians demanding that they liberate Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician who has been held hostage in the jungle since 2002 as a human bargaining chip that's too important to cash in.

The irony is that she's pretty far left herself, or used to be. But instead of releasing her to do her work, fighting corruption and reforming the country they're both supposed to love, FARC clings to power and violence.

If there's an antidote, it was in the crowd of thousands that turned out to demand her release. It was a peculiar experience for me, marching for one woman who wasn't even dead yet. But it was a useful reminder that FARC, like Plato, got it wrong.

Things aren't divided neatly into halves that combine into lovers, or even the stasis of enemies and friends that make civil war. Instead, we are much smaller fragments of that one thing, humanity, which is sprinkled among us, and whole in none of us. And why we only destroy ourselves, trying to eradicate the enemy in a single blast.

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