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Z PAPERS ON VISION & STRATEGY
Gabriel matthew Schivone
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Screenings in The "Devil's Garden"
The Sahara Film Festival
Nineteen-year-old Ibrahim Hussein Leibeit shifts his weight in obvious discomfort. The stump of his leg, blown off below the knee by a landmine on April 10, has yet to heal. "The pain is horrible" he tells me. "But today it is possible for me to think about other things." Leibeit was born and raised in the isolated refugee camps in southwestern Algeria where an estimated 165,000 Saharawi people who fled their native Western Sahara have lived for over three decades.
Western Sahara, "Africa's last colony," was divided between Morocco and Mauritania by the Spanish when they withdrew in 1976 following the mass mobilization by the Moroccans known as the "Green March." The preceding year the International Court of Justice had rejected Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to sovereignty over the territory, effectively recognizing the Saharawi's right to independence. In February 1976, the Saharawi independence movement, the Polisario Front, declared the creation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. A 16-year war ensued between the Moroccans and the Polisario Front, the Mauritanians having withdrawn in 1979. In 1991, the fighting ended and under the terms of a UN ceasefire agreement, a referendum for self-determination was promised. However, this has been continually blocked by Morocco, leaving the Saharawi to live in four large camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert.
Home to nearly 30,000 refugees, Dakhla, named after the beautiful coastal city in Western Sahara, is the most remote of the camps. It is located more than 100 miles from the nearest city, Tindouf. It has no paved roads and is entirely dependent on outside supplies of food and water. In the summer months temperatures regularly top 120 degrees. With sandstorms, little vegetation, and no sources of food or water, it is little wonder that the area is known locally as "The Devil's Garden." Yet, incredibly, for a week each May, this desolate refugee camp plays host to the Sahara International Film Festival (www.festivalsahara.com), a gala of screenings, workshops, and concerts attended by an array of internationally acclaimed actors and filmmakers.
Now in its sixth year, the festival was set up by award-winning Peruvian documentary filmmaker Javier Corcuera. It aims to both entertain and educate the refugees, as well as raise awareness internationally of the plight of the Saharawi people. There were over 500 international participants in attendance this year, mainly Spaniards, who flew into Tindouf in two charter planes and travelled to the sprawling camp in a convoy of Landcruisers. Dakhla itself is clean and well organized, with wide sandy streets lined with houses and tents forming neat family compounds. The festival site is in a spacious area in the center of the camp and includes a multiplex-sized outdoor screen attached to the side of an articulated lorry. The central screen is surrounded by tents for workshops, exhibitions, and indoor screenings as well as numerous stalls.
The 2009 program included over 40 films from around the world. The themes mainly explored diverse experiences of struggle and hope, but there was some lighter entertainment and even an animated film which held a capacity crowd of refugee children enraptured. Audiovisual workshops run by the London-based charity Sandblast provided Sahrawi refugees with an opportunity to learn about all aspects of filmmaking and create their own video messages. These were put online and could be seen by their extended families in Western Sahara, from whom they have been separated for over 33 years.
The festival is gaining renown, helped by the support of luminaries such as Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodovar. This year a number of well-known people from the entertainment industry attended, including actors Helena Anaya (Sex and Lucia), Eduardo Noriega (Vantage Point) and Oscar-nominated film director Javier Fesser.
The celebrities, like all visitors to the festival, stayed with Saharawi families, sharing their homes and their food. Living alongside the refugees gave visitors an insight into the conditions under which the refugees live and motivated many participants to get involved in the campaign to pressure Morocco over the situation in Western Sahara. The campaign in Spain has been growing steadily, boosted by a sense of betrayal felt towards Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's new socialist government, which failed to reverse the long-held Spanish policy toward Morocco.
However, campaigners recognize that to affect real change the focus of attention cannot just be on the Spanish government. With Morocco recently named by the U.S. as a major non-NATO ally, and with many Western governments and companies involved in lucrative trade deals with the Moroccans, action has not been high on the international agenda. Large reserves of phosphate, vast fishing grounds, and potential offshore reserves of oil and gas mean that the Western Sahara is not a possession the Moroccans will relinquish lightly.
Privately, a Polisario representative admitted concern about the rising level of militancy among some young Saharawis. After waiting patiently while countless UN resolutions have been passed and ignored, many are losing faith in the diplomatic process. Indeed, Ibrahim Hussein Leibeit is one such young person. He had been taking part in a march to the 1,553 mile-long fortified barrier known as "the wall," built by the Moroccans to stop the Sahrawis from returning to their land. In a symbolic gesture, Ibrahim was attempting to get close enough to the wall to throw to a pebble to the other side when he stepped on the land mine. He is rapidly becoming something of a hero to the Sahrawi cause, a symbol of their defiance. Ibrahim has no regrets: "I would gladly lose my other leg if it would mean my country could be free."
At a dusty red carpet ceremony on the final day, the decision of the popular jury was announced and the White Camel award for best picture was picked up by producer Albert Noriega for the 2008 Steven Soderbergh film, Che, Guerilla. Participants and organizers, some waving flags of the Saharawi nation, took the stage in a final act of solidarity with the refugees. After the obligatory photo calls, the international participants boarded the waiting fleet of Landcruisers in a buoyant mood. But as the convoy headed back across the empty desert, the mood changed and thoughts turned to those left behind. During the 16-year war, captured Moroccan prisoners were corralled into open compounds in the desert. They were free to leave at anytime, but in the Sahara there is nowhere to go. Dakhla is essentially a desert prison. Despite a tangible undercurrent of anger and frustration, Y. Lamine Baali, Polisario's UK representative, tells me that what fuels Saharawri determination is a strong sense of injustice. I heard the word "karama" a lot in Dakhla. It is an Arabic word for strength and dignity.
I touch down in London, dusty and somewhat dazed, but with a rare clarity of purpose. The next day at work I took my boss aside and handed her my letter of resignation. I resolved to work instead with the Free Western Sahara Campaign (www.freesahara.ning.com) to help move the story of the Saharawi refugees off the culture pages of a few magazines reporting on the film festival and on to the international pages of all newspapers where it belongs.
Next year, it is hoped that there will be direct flights to Tindouf from London, Paris and LA filled with actors, filmmakers, musicians, as well as others wanting to be part of the festival and show their solidarity with the Saharawi. In this way the festival will become more of an international event, putting pressure on political decision-makers and reminding the world of an otherwise forgotten conflict.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.