29 Oct Caravans
What they once called Krystalnacht has just struck again, this time in Pennsylvania. What they call “domestic terrorism”—but is actually “white male Christian supremacy terrorism” has struck again, in mailed pipe bombs. But I refuse to forget what has dropped from the gorged news cycle. The Caravan.
What they call The Caravan is a classic example of patriarchal politics from both right and left opportunistically conspiring for their own purposes while manipulating what the left terms the Masses and the right calls the Folk. The cost is paid in human suffering.
It began in the lethal triangle of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, where poverty, political corruption, drug traffic, and violence are simultaneously epidemic and chronic. This time it was born out of demonstrations against Honduras’ presidential election late last year—a farce so blatant that the Organization of American States called for a new election. Hondurans took to the streets to protest the fraudulent vote count. Nevertheless, the Trump regime gave its blessing to the new Honduran president, Juan Hernandes, despite (or because of?) credible evidence that he was corrupt and amassing too much power.
So the Honduran opposition came up with the idea of a caravan marching north as a visible, vivid example of what happens when a government fails its people. The opposition had in mind perhaps 500 people, to start out from San Pedro Sula, called “the murder capital of the world.” It wasn’t a wild idea, since between 200 and 300 people on average leave Honduras every day as a matter of course, risking the journey north in hope of a future where their sons won’t be drafted into drug cartels and their daughters kidnapped into sex trafficking. A leftist politician, Luis Redondo, posted on Facebook “When [the world] sees everyone walking they should ask ‘Who is responsible for so many people leaving Honduras?’ Then we can say those responsible are the corrupt and corrupters of the National Party.”
The Honduran left played directly into the hands of the American right just when Trump was getting frantic about losing Congress in our mid-terms, and also itching to distract attention from Saudi Arabia’s murder of Khashoggi. He ratcheted up fears about a tidal wave of Latin Americans coming to flood our southern border. From there, the story spiraled up through rumor, propaganda, and cross accusations: that the U.S. would cut off all aid to Honduras if the Caravan was not stopped; that Honduran officials were handing out dollar bills to the migrants to get them to come home—which then got distorted and reported in the United States as George Soros paying cash to migrants to join the Caravan, that the Caravan was a cover for gangs smuggling huge caches of drugs, and for “Middle Easterners” toting bombs. There were falsified videos shot in other countries claiming that Mexican police have been injured by Caravan members in bloody street fights, that Caravan walkers are carrying dangerous, contagious diseases and burning American flags; that when cameras aren’t around, they board air-conditioned buses and trains instead of walking.
But lies work with Trump’s base, escalating emotions from anxiety direct to panic. Newt Gingrich openly said that Republicans hope increased coverage of the Caravan will stoke fears and prompt certain voter groups—especially white suburban women—to move away from Democratic candidates, toward whom they have been trending.
It’s a caravan of pawns. Innocent of how they were being sacrificed to protect the kings, and lacking tactics or strategy, they knew only one thing: where they had been was now unbearable. A devastating drought due to climate change destroyed trees for the palm-oil crop and laid off thousands of workers. Everyone poor—which is everyone but the elite—wants out. Yet it’s dangerous to go north alone or even in small groups. Bandits on the roads rob what little food and few pennies you have, rape the women and girls, beat up the men if they resist. There’s safety in numbers. So people started joining the Caravan on their own. Then more people. Whole families, extended families, neighbors.
They’ve now walked for almost a month, with more miles ahead. Some have given up in despair and turned back, knowing death in one form or another awaits them but at least they will be home. Some have died en route—falls, heatstroke, heart attack. Still others have joined along the way, mostly from Guatemala but some from El Salvador and Nicaragua. People drop off, rejoin, find a foothold somewhere thinking to settle, but then run to catch up again. Despite some efforts by Mexico to stop or slow the Caravan, it continues, fluctuating between 4,000 and 7,000 people.
A Guatemalan man traveling with his wife and their year-old son, who spent part of the night on sheets of cardboard in the central square of Huixtla, Mexico, told a New York Times reporter, ”This is straight up biblical.” Migrants had filled every square foot of the central plaza, sprawling on cardboard, blankets, plastic sheeting. Most wear whatever they had on when they decided to leave Central America. Many stagger along in flimsy shoes, ripped sneakers, flip-flops.
The traveler is right: it is biblical. It stirs awake archetypes in our collective memory.
It’s the Exodus: Israelites streaming out of Egypt and, later, Jews fleeing pogroms and Nazis.
It’s the Armenians forced out of Turkey, the Syrians in flight from war.
It’s here in America: the Trail of Tears forced march of the Cherokee Nation toward what they were told must be resettlement far from their beloved ancestral homelands.
It’s the Underground Railroad of enslaved Africans fleeing north. North, north—where pale-skinned, pale-eyed people live and surely there’s safety, isn’t there?
It’s Medieval, too: months-long processions of pilgrims flowing toward holy shrines they’ve been told spell their salvation.
It’s as naive as The Children’s Crusade, because these migrants and refugees are unaware of Trump’s threat to seal the border and line it with soldiers who will fire on them if necessary, to bar them from the land of opportunity. Apparently the Latin American leftists aren’t telling them that because it doesn’t serve their purpose. The American regime certainly isn’t sending emissaries to tell them that, either, because the Caravan is now so useful in scaring voters.
Leaderless, organic, with all the organizers’ political plots fallen by the wayside, now it’s just the people. Vulnerable, dazed, they continue to move almost as if one organism, like a murmurration, when starlings wheel and swoop and circle in great dipping, rising sheets of wings across the sky. From aerial photos, the Caravan looks like a pointillist painting. But each dot in the pointillist image breathes.
At some towns they pass through, volunteer nurses treat walkers for infected blisters, sunburn, dehydration, fractures. They treat diabetics who have no medicine, examine pregnant women with ankles so swollen the skin bulges shiny purple. So far, two women have reportedly given birth along the way, but one birth was stillborn, and no one seems to be keeping track of how many women have miscarried.
The women, my god, the women.
Harassed, assaulted, somehow still expected to care for the men, they try to help each other, try to keep everyone clean, yearn for soap and hot water. Many are fleeing abusive men, unaware that U.S. policy on domestic-violence-survivor asylum seekers has hardened, and there is no real asylum category for refugees from economic violence. Meanwhile, men on the Caravan shout at them to walk faster, keep up. The men carry parcels but the women carry parcels and children. There are approximately 2,400 children in the Caravan. Anyone who has been around a two-year-old child for a single hour knows that the demands of a toddler are ferocious. Imagine, then, trudging in flip-flops across rocky roads and on hot pavement and through muddy fields, and wading across shallow rivers while clinging to ropes against the current, for 8 to 10 miles daily hour after day after week, soaked from a downpour or dizzy from the sun beating down on your head, with a two-year-old strapped to your back or riding your hip, or a one-year-old and a three-year-old, or an infant and four and seven year olds hanging on to your skirt, your legs, your breasts, your hair—all the little ones whining, hungry, thirsty, sleepy, scared oh scared, wailing for attention.
Decent people in towns and rural areas along the way bring out water, sandwiches, pots of food, mostly rice and beans. But sometimes there are days with no food other than the little the travelers may have saved from what they brought with them. One night in a small town a local musician starts playing his guitar and a few young migrants find the energy to dance, because it’s hard to stamp out the human hunger for even a moment of happiness. In a corner of the square, a group of migrant old women kneels, telling the beads of their rosaries together, because it’s hard to erase superstition and harder yet to erase hope.
These are Donald Trump’s calloused criminals and terrorists, described as hordes that will overwhelm the United States. In reality, even at its highest number, the Caravan would fit into a corner of, say, Michigan Stadium (capacity 109,901) or the Rose Bowl (93,542). These people are simply seeking work. They want to stop, they’re desperate for sleep, they need to rest so they can work. Freedom is an abstract idea, but they are parched with thirst for rest.
If only the baby would stop crying. Oh god let the baby stop, let the baby stop crying, let it stop.
This is happening now, right now. As I write these words. As you read them.