While I and many, many others continue to mourn for our comrade Helen as well as celebrate her brilliant life, I admit I am floundering a bit for some clarity. I have just read a post that I found via Leny Stroebel's blog denouncing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a dictator, corrupt and brutal and violent. I have a hard time with this post because I can tell that this blogger is not a right-wing fascist, and because posts like his often leave me struggling with how to identify and find my place as an radical, earth-loving, feminist/womanist/leftist in this crazy world.
I, too, have doubts and criticism of Chavez' role in Venezuela. I will not, however, go so far as to call his administration a 'regime', as others have done. I admit freely that I have not traveled to Venezuela--although if time and money were not factors I would go--although I have spoken at length with people who have been there, other radical leftists who are not the screaming, self-righteous folks that the mainstream media usually depicts us as. Most of the people I work with in my social justice work are the most loving, self-critical, conscious and genuinely tolerant people I know. I trust these people with my life. And, trust me, there have been times when I needed someone to have my back and they were there.
Which is why I find some of the truly vehement attacks on Chavez to be so disturbing. Call me naive--and although I'm still a wet-behind-the-ears 32-year-old activist in some ways, I'm definitely no innocent and have seen my fair share of ugly leftist in-fighting--but I can't reconcile these seemingly credible accusations of Chavez with what I hear from people I trust and love who have seen, first-hand, the beautiful developments that have grown out of the Bolivarian revolution: the huge organic community garden in the middle of Caracas, the women hotel workers' cooperative that was able to take control of their own workplace, the everyday poor people who want to make a connection with their President because they honestly feel he will help them and not just the rich.
These chasms of division on the left truly sadden me at times. I am not saying that we can't be crtical of each other--of course, we need to have honest and critical debate and arguments if our movements are going to last and make real change; my friend M.'s post about his criticisms of Chavez is a perfect example of a well-reasoned yet impassioned critique that was truly helpful to me. Perhaps it is that I am feeling raw and vulnerable in the aftermath of Helen's passing, but there are times when these great divides make me want to weep.
Because if we on the left cannot get our shit together to engage with each other in a respectful, reasonable and strategic way, then it is hard for me to imagine how we can truly move forward with our important work to build a better world. I know it sounds idealistic, and it may be naive, but this forward movement, this unity is something I still long for. And I don't want to have to back a watered-down imperialist for President in order to feel it.
And as I sit here with my sadness, I long for the clarity and comfort of Helen's words and logic, based on many years of radical struggle and life experience. Perhaps it is a futile longing, but I cannot deny its pull on my psyche. And I cannot help but hope and work for a better tomorrow despite the desperation that I sometimes feel because of it.
And in the end I know, deep down inside, that that is all that matters--that I continue with the work, and that I continue questioning and hoping, struggling and building.
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