In our classes this semester, we have often discussed the concept of “power,” and what it means and implicates in different contexts. Unfortunately, on a macro level—on the level of politics, countries, and multinational corporations—power almost always implicates money, and vice versa. In our current global system, those that have the most money, have the most power to enact the changes they want, and, consequently, continue to accumulate more money and power at the expense of those with less.
The consequences of this system are visible in the news programs we watch nightly. The shooting that occurred a couple weeks ago in northern California marks the third mass shooting that has happened in the United States during my three months thus far in Ecuador—first Las Vegas, then Texas, and now California. While mass shootings are unfortunately not something unfamiliar to U.S. citizens, it feels like the rate at which they are occurring is accelerating—and we, as a country, continue to do nothing about it. Those with the power to affect real change—our politicians in this case—are too afraid to lose the support of the gun lobby and their right-leaning constituents to pass any legislation that would get guns off the street, or make them more difficult to obtain. So, instead, they consciously allow these shootings to keep happening, allow people to keep dying, simply to keep their pockets full of money from the NRA and their political careers going.
As the semester has gone by, I’ve noticed this same pattern occurring in different contexts here in Ecuador. When we went on the ToxiTour in the Amazon in October, a tour of different sites and communities polluted with petroleum by oil company Chevron-Texaco, our guide described the lengths to which the corporation went to be able to extract oil from the lands of indigenous communities—even telling communities that the oil had healing properties, leading them to rub the toxic petroleum on their skin. In conversations with host families and friends in our host community, we’ve discussed the same pattern in multinational agricultural corporations, such as Monsanto, who load their products with chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, in order to make a bigger profit, all while claiming that the chemicals have no health effects. In the communities who have started to consume more of these products, and have even begun to use these chemicals on their own crops to keep up with bigger companies, the rate of cancer has sky-rocketed. Each of the actors in these respective scenarios—U.S. politicians, Chevron-Texaco, multinational agro-corporations—have the power to stop the pain and violence they are causing, but choose not to for the sake of their pockets. I wrote the following two poems to try to express how I was feeling about these different events, and the interconnections between them. The first is about the shooting in California, and, moreover, the pattern that our country consistently follows in the days following each shooting.
Every time, without fail, our politicians offer their condolences, offer their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families, and then do nothing to fix the actual problem, too afraid to lose funding from the gun lobby and the political support of their conservative constituents. The second poem shows the relationship between all the above examples, how each one represents how those in power use dishonesty and manipulation to increase their profits, while inflicting violence against people and communities with less economic and political power.
To close, I think it’s important to recognize that, while we often think of power as tied to money, as in the previous examples, there are other equally significant forms of power; as humans we have incredible capacities to create, love, empathize, share, change, grow, and influence. While this kind of human power isn’t always as valued as the power that comes with money, it may be the only way we have to fight these corporations and politicians who place their material wellbeing over the wellbeing of other human beings.
Our country is bleeding bleeding through bullet hole wounds bleeding through the tired hearts of mothers of dead children bleeding through “thoughts and prayers” bandages
And still we do nothing but offer our condolences
For money and for “freedom”— the freedom to own a gun the freedom to kill
the freedom to keep bleeding
~ the 3 rd mass shooting in the U.S. in my 3 months in Ecuador
The petroleros hand them oil Say “Rub this on your skin, It will heal you.”
The corporaciones agrícolas hand them factory fruits Say “Feed this to your children, It will strengthen them.”
The politicians hand them guns Say “Give these to your sons, It will protect them.”
This Is how they rise Is how we fall Skin sticky with petroleo, Stomach laced with poison, Body pocked with bullet holes, Money in outstretched hand.