Back in the USA, Bad News Every Day

Photo: Back to the USA blues as the soupy New York sky consumes the top of the Empire State building outside the author’s office window. 

The weekend after we returned from Guatemala we were confronted by bad news and more bad news. I arrived home to New York in the middle of the night Friday and by Saturday afternoon Brett Kavanaugh had been confirmed as Supreme Court justice, even after Christine Blasey Ford blew up her life by publicly recounting the time he tried to rape her when she was a kid. By Sunday night the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was out, a reminder that we’ve got 12 years to totally change our economic and political regime if we’d like to avoid plunging into deep insecurity forever. And then the Brazilian election results — Jair Bolsonaro winning way too many votes considering his celebration of the military dictatorship where hundreds of people disappeared and thousands were tortured.

Cherry on the ice cream was remembering that Monday was Columbus day, still a federal holiday despite the man’s widely recognized status as the captain of genocide. I guess it’s not news that documented human suffering and trauma is not what guides people’s decision-making.

Feeling powerless and depressed, I reflected on the previous week’s reporting, and I guess what I’m leaning on is people’s resilience in the face of annihilation. The story I’ll be writing with my reporting partner Martyna Starosta is about a handful of communities that succeeded in halting one of the largest silver mines in the world. At the crux of their success was the Xinca people, who sued the company for failing to consult them before pushing ahead the project. Because of irregularities with the census process, and because most Xinca people no longer speak the language or wear traditional dress, the company argued that there were no Xinca people to consult. But it happened that the company entered the scene precisely as many Xinca were re-claiming an identity and culture that settler governments had worked hard to erase. Armed with indigeneity, the people found the power to stop the mega-project (for now anyway). Genocide didn’t work.

What I’d really prefer is for everybody to take a minute and reflect on what’s happened in the past that we ought not repeat and to also look forward and consider how many generations of people are going to continue to occupy this planet in the future. Someone on this trip asked me what super-power I’d choose if I could and I said that I’d have the power to cure individuals of their horribleness.

That probably isn’t gonna happen, but at least I can remember a recurring reality, that plenty of people will fight and survive rather than be lapped up by the rising seas.

Alleen Brown was a fall 2018 Guatemala reporting fellow