It has been disorienting to be out of the country while a social explosion erupts back home over the murder of Trayvon Martin and the indifference of the American state to its own racism that criminalizes all Black men and boys.
I’ve been on a speaking tour about Occupy and U.S. Politics Today throughout Switzerland all week, traveling from German to French and finally Italian-speaking cantons of this unimaginably pristine island of prosperity amidst a world rocked by economic implosion. I’ll leave it for another post to explore the museum-bank of capitalism that is Switzerland.
For me, the backdrop of my train rides past medieval forts and castles, through vineyards and alpine magnificence has been the news of Trayvon’s murder. Each evening I stand before a new crowd of workers and students — in Zurich, Geneva and last night here in Bellinzona — to describe not only the features of Occupy, but the 30 years of neoliberal restructuring that has hollowed out every aspect of American society. Workers and students sit in rapt attention as I attempt to explain the social retrogression of the American Empire. I begin my talks with Trayvon.
Last night was a little different. This breathtakingly beautiful village tucked into the foothills of the Swiss-Italian Alps was rocked by a factory occupation in 2008 when 400 or so railway maintenance workers facing privatization and outsourcing occupied their factory and won their month-long strike. The leadership of that factory occupation attended last night’s meeting and we spoke afterward of how despite their victory they did suffer losses, including 130 workers who are no longer employed by Swiss Railways.
In commemoration of their loss, workers hung 130 pairs of orange work pants on the wall of the factory. Each section of the factory flies the flag of their magnificent strike. It is a testament to their ongoing militancy that to this day management is unable to take down those pants or flags and can only dream of removing statements posted on factory walls by strike leaders. Three managers have been sacked in as many years, each one incapable of smashing the workers’ resolve.
I got to thinking about the importance of memorializing victories and losses, about how memory in a society that aims to wipe away our past is a form of resistance in itself. And so this morning when I awoke to a gorgeous spring day, I went for a stroll and looked for a bag of Skittles, the candy Trayvon had purchased right before he was gunned down for snacking while Black.
Not surprisingly, this tiny Swiss town doesn’t seem to have any Skittles, but I did find Mentos. I started up the footpath that leads high up above the forts and churches and impeccably maintained gardens and homes of this town. Everywhere spring is in bloom here and clean river water has begun to rush down the rocks from the snow-capped peaks all around me. I hiked for a couple of hours until I found a serene place where purple and yellow flowers were already growing up from the mossy rocks. Someone made a bench of tree trunks here to sit and stare out at the peaks, which is where I decided to make a little memorial for Trayvon.
I’m not a religious person, but when you are surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty it seems even the most pragmatic Marxist is given to moments of soulful contemplation. I dug a little hole near the log, poured the Mentos in, placed a rock on top and said a few words in commemoration of a young man who probably never saw the Alps.
It wasn’t really a prayer, I suppose, but a hope and a promise that I would do whatever was in my power to ensure that some day racism and the structures that require such brutality and ignorance to divide and crush us would be undone.
And in a sunny spot beneath a rock, in full view of beauty more permanent than the crass stupidities of our society, lies a sweet memory to a young man whose resistance will live on through others.
Next week I’ll be speaking in Florida.
Wednesday, March 28th at a community college in Melbourne, FL
Thursday, March 29th at Univ. of Florida in Gainesville
Friday, March 30th at University of South Florida in Tampa