Category Archives: itineraries

Letters to the Compass

Further Journeys with Ala Plástica

Junco“Junco” (all photos by Claire Pentecost)

First Letter

Dear friends -

Greets from Argentina! Buenos Aires is far behind and Claire and I are relaxing in a quirky countryside house near the town of Victoria, on the far side of the Paraná river delta from the grain-exporting ports of Rosario. We had a meeting here today, talking about how to make a journal that could be used for community work up and down the Delta. It could have recipes, interviews with locals, articles about ecological or political issues, some drawings or other artwork, stories drawn from workshops or other encounters. A possible name was “Atención Flotante” – a reference to the water, to the mixed character of a little notebook that Delta people might actually read, and also a kind of hidden homage to “evenly suspended attention” that goes along with free association in psychoanalysis. I thought it was good, especially when someone pointed out that it could also be read as “watch out, debris in the water!”

Yesterday we took a boat from the port of San Lorenzo out into the huge muddy brown river, which is wide like I imagine the Mississippi. Some members of a group called Floating Workshops had arranged an afternoon trip for us on a big bright-orange Zodiac piloted by two employees of the local prefecture, with official insignias and everything. We passed the loading docks and the grain chutes that slope down from riverside elevators toward ocean-going freighters. On the far side we got off at the home of the Dominguez family, who are “isleños,” or delta islanders. They are a couple living in a ramshackle compound with half a dozen kids, a few dogs, some chickens and a bright green parrot. It was fascinating to converse with these people, who seemed to be squatters on that land, though it wasn’t really clear (there are traditional land tenure rights which are neither property owning, nor exactly squatting either). Dominguez told us about working for big soy farmers in the region, driving GPS-guided combines where you just have to sit back, push a button and then watch while it takes in the harvest. After some more questions we realized that even inside the driver’s cabin you also have to wear a gas mask against the toxic emanations of the grain, which has been doused in glyphosate….

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Cartography with your feet

Screenprint poster for Cartography with Your Feet at the US Social ForumHow can the scattered communities of the Rust Belt and the Corn Belt recognize each other, connect, share resources and build cultures of transformation? The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a sign, a vision, an invitation to meet people in cities, towns and rural areas on the roads to Detroit, to learn about local situations and find common issues. Our group of artists and writers, The Compass, is dedicated to exploring the radical roots of better futures for the region. This workshop offers a convergence for caravanistas, bicyclists and walkers to say how they are linking their home environments, projects and struggles to other localities and initiatives. Participants can tell stories of their travels, show images with a projector and trace out routes on a large map of North America, locating the places they found most meaningful. Key themes are environmental and social justice campaigns, alternative food production, cultures of resistance and grassroots institutions. Follow-ups during the Forum will include a walking tour in Detroit in collaboration with local inhabitants. We will also carry out video interviews with participants about the life path that has led them to Detroit, to create a lasting document distributed for free. Everyone paying special attention to the territory they cross on their road to the Forum is invited to share. This workshop can be merged with any similar proposal: the point is to meet people and make the dream of the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor into a reality. Map it with your feet!

Continental Drift through the MRCC

cdmrccFrom June 4 to 14, 2008, a group of people traveled through Illinois and Wisconsin in search of a Radical Midwest. Starting in Urbana, Illinois and winding our way through Chicago, Milwaukee, rural Wisconsin, and Madison, we visited places where alternate pasts and futures sprout up and grow roots in the stress-fractures of a society built on violence, exploitation, and environmental destruction. We visited community groups fighting power companies for decades of environmental racism; learned about preserving Underground Railroad sites in Chicago; watched a 35-year old film about revolutionary black street gangs with the man who wrote it; cleaned a flood-damaged bookstore; and passed the time on many, many farms.

The trip was called Continental Drift and extended the seminars of that name organized by Brian Holmes, Claire Pentecost, and the people at 16 Beaver Group. The name proposes a radical geography that thinks place, culture, and economics simultaneously and contends that neoliberal capitalism and American militarism—as well as the international social movements that counter them — are radically reshaping the world on scales from the interpersonal to the geopolitical. The Midwest gathering doubled this sense of the word “drift.” Through the mobile exploration of the geographies of capital and resistance in a particular place, the seminar also became a derive, favored as an affective, embodied research tool by the Situationists of fifty years ago. In contrast to earlier seminars, this Drift unfolded over ten days, 725 miles, and several rainy nights spent in tents, fostering a level of familiarity, even intimacy among the travelers and those we visited.

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(excerpted from the introduction to A Call to Farms)