Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning from Social Movements in Honduras

by Riahl O’Malley

“Estos brazos que no me dan, que no me dan…” (“Oh my achin’ arms, my achin’ arms.”) The song was stuck in my head all weekend, accompanied by the indelible image of Salvador, a prominent member of The Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, leading an auditorium full of people in some Honduran hokey-pokey. “Me muevo de ‘lla pa’ ‘ca, de ‘ca pa’ ‘lla…” (“I m move from there ta’ here ‘n’ from here ta’ there…”)

Speeches from national and international speakers filled the weekend-long International Human Rights Conference in Solidarity with the Aguan. Between speeches, people like Salvador would energize the audience through chants, inspiring orations, or even… a song and dance activity.

The event was organized to draw attention to the human rights crisis in Honduras, particularly in the Aguan region. The situation has been dire for campesinos living in the Aguan, especially since the coup détat in 2009. In November of last year the Lobo administration sent in the military to respond to violence in the region. And while the United States funnels money into the Honduran police and military, militarization has only exacerbated the problem.

What kind of a social movement does it take to confront such forces? This militarization promises to enforce the law of the rich at the cost of the safety and security of poor and working people, particularly in rural areas.

I had numerous conversations during my time at the conference, reflecting on the qualities of valuable leadership and the integrated nature of organizing in Honduras. I reflected on the power of the diverse coalition that has formed in resistance to ongoing oppression. Speeches would begin by speaking about militarization and imperialism and end speaking about violence against women and insisting that the role of care-taking and domestic work is the responsibility of men as well.

I recall making my way to the restroom one morning and noticing a “SLIPPERY WHEN WET” sign at the entrance. Walking through the doorway I was greeted by a smiling face. Salvador, the same inspiring voice I heard sing behind the microphone in front of the entire auditorium, greeted me with a big smile. Sporting rubber gloves and rainboots, a garden hose in-hand, he warmly pointed me in the direction of the other bathroom.

Shared by roughly half of 1,000 conference participants, cleaning that bathroom must not have been a pleasant task. Someone like Salvador likely could have passed it to someone else. But, as many hands helped prepare 3 free meals a day for each attendee, helped sweep floors and stack chairs, hands of people who likely did not get a turn at the microphone, Salvador showed his solidarity 3 hours that morning with a mop and toilet brush.

The situation in Honduras is unspeakably messy, and U.S. policy is responsible for its own filthy share. There is a wave of peaceful resistance that wears a smile of humility, carries a song of resistance, and isn’t afraid to get dirty cleaning up a mess it didn’t create. As I reflect on ways to confront U.S. support for militarization in Central America, I draw inspiration from the examples of strong leadership who are mobilizing in Honduras. “…Me muevo de ‘lla pa’ ‘ca, de ‘ca pa’ ‘lla…”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trucchi – Rel-UITA

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