Apr 212014
 

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By Marcel Cartier

I had the unique opportunity to spend several days in three different parts of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly just referred to as “North” Korea. This was an exceptionally life-changing experience that challenged many of the pre-conceptions that myself and fellow western visitors who accompanied me from Beijing had going in. Here are some things about North Korea that may surprise you, as many of them surprised me, as well.

1. Americans Are Not Hated, But Welcomed

The Koreans have a very high level of class consciousness, and do not equate the American people with our government. They make no secret of their contempt for U.S. imperialism, but if you say you’re an American, the conversation will usually revolve around culture or sports more than politics. At the Grand People’s Study House in Pyongyang (think your local library on steorids, with over 30 million books), the most popular CD is The Beatles’ “Greatest Hits”, although Linkin Park is also requested a lot among local youth. The young men seem fascinated with the NBA, and know a lot more about the league than just Dennis Rodman.

2. Customs and Border Patrol Were A Smooth, Easy Experience

Many of the westerners who traveled to Pyongyang from Beijing with me were concerned that the immigration procedure would be a long and intense one. Everyone seemed quite surprised that passports were stamped with no questions asked, and that only a handful of passengers had a few items in their bags looked at. Prior to traveling, it is strongly advised by tour companies that people not bring any kind of books on the Korean War or items that have American flags on them. This may be solid advice, but immigration didn’t really seem too concerned about what was brought into the country.

3. Pyongyang Is Beautiful, Clean and Colorful

Probably the most gorgeous city in the world, Pyongyang is incredibly well kept. Considering that the entire city was carpet bombed by U.S. forces in the Korean War (what they call the Fatherland Liberation War) and that only two buildings remained in 1953, it is an impressive accomplishment. The statues and grand buildings are awe-inspiring, as are the large green spaces where you can see people relaxing. There are many new apartment buildings sprouting up across the city, but even the ones that are evidently older are maintained well. It is often said that Pyongyang at night is dark, and although it may be compared to a western city, it does have beautiful lights that illuminate much of the downtown area.

4. Kim Jong Un Haircuts Are Practically Non-Existent

There was one man who sported the Kim cut who I saw while en route from the airport to the city center, and it wasn’t a good look on him at all! The haircut was rumoured by BBC and TIME who picked up on a South Korean tabloid story to now be mandatory for all North Korean men of university age. Not only is this story not true, so is the allegation that the men in the DPRK only have a select few styles to choose from at the barber shop that are “state sanctioned.” It really works just as it would in the west – there are flyers at barbershops where styles are pictured, making it easier for customers to say, “I want a number seven cut.” But, just as in a New York barber shop, that doesn’t mean that you are restricted to that particular look.

5. North Koreans laugh, smile and joke – a lot

The question you’re asking is probably, “but isn’t that for show?” It would be a mighty accomplishment indeed if with all of the genuine laughs I shared with Koreans, they were putting on an act. Not only that, but for vehicles speeding by on the streets, those Koreans do an impressive job of making sure they’re aware when there are foreigners passing so they can pretend to laugh! Koreans have jokes for just about everything, from Canadians and ice hockey (“why did the Canadians have sex from the back? So they can watch the hockey game”) to Americans at the DMZ (“an American passes a DPRK soldier a cigarette across the demarcation line. The solider smokes it, but the American asks why if he hates Americans he is smoking something from the U.S. The solider replies, I am not smoking it but rather burning it.”)

6. Monolithic Ideology Does Not Mean Monolithic Personality

This is a good reminder that individualism and individuality are not one in the same. In fact, observing people interact with one another in North Korea provided the impression that a diversity of personality types was just as strong there as it is in the “open” west. People have a divergence of interests, from sports to culture, and are free to pick what they enjoy and dislike.

7. People are incredibly well dressed across the country

Even in the countryside, Koreans dress in a very dignified manner. There was not one place I traveled to where people appeared in the least bit sloppy, or wearing clothes that appeared to be old. Men and women also don’t all wear the same style of clothing, as we are often conditioned to think. It is common to see women wearing very bright clothes, including pink business suits as well as more traditional Korean dresses. Men may often wear ties, collared shirts and suit coats, but it is also not uncommon to see them in more casual wear such as tracksuits depending on the occasion.

8. Children Begin To Learn English At the Age of 7

The people’s command of English, particularly among the younger generation, is very impressive. While in previous decades, high school was the time when English began to be learnt, this has been changed to the third grade. Although many children are shy (they don’t see that many foreigners, after all), I was able to get many of them to shake my hand and even exchange a few words in English. Popular languages that are studied in high school include Chinese and German.

9. Tourism Will Be Boosted In The Near Future

One of the aspects of the economy that will be prioritized in the future appears to be tourism. The entire Pyongyang Airport is under construction at the moment and in the midst of major expansion. The Koreans are keen to open up to the outside world, but they are also certain to do it in a very different way than the Chinese (after being in Beijing, the omnipotence of some of the worst aspects of western culture their gives them every reason to be cautious in this regard). Air Koryo, which was given the only 1-star rating by the company SkyTrax, was in reality much better in terms of service and comfort than at least a dozen other airlines I had previously flown on. They have a new fleet of Russian planes that fly between Pyongyang and Beijing, provide in flight entertainment throughout the journey (the children’s cartoon Clever Raccoon Dog is hilarious), and serve a “hamburger” (not so good, but edible) and an assortment of drinks (coffee, tea, beer, juice). The whole experience was at least worthly of three-stars if we had to go the rating route!

10. Koreans Are Keen To Talk About The Country Candidly

People are very open about the problems facing the country, and don’t shy away from discussing some of the more difficult aspects of life. For instance, they would speak about the “Arduous March” (think the “Special Period” in Cuba) where drought, famine and floods coupled with the loss of the majority of the country’s trading partners brought big setbacks to a country that until the 1980s had a higher standard of living than the South. They will also discuss the narratives regarding the Korean War and are keen for a betterment of relations with South Korea in the eventual hope of reunification. However, they are also very firm on the fact that they will never renounce their socialist principles in order to facilitate this reunification.

11. Beer Is Considered A Soft Drink, Micro Breweries Are Popular

Almost every district in the country now has a local brewery that provides beer to the local area. There are a variety of different kinds that are enjoyed around the country, and most meals are served with a small quantity of beer. At Kim Il Sung Stadium where the Pyongyang Marathon started and ended, it was not uncommon to see locals having a drink as they watched the exhibition matches between DPRK football teams. Think Yankee Stadium, just without the aggressiveness of the crowd.

12. Most of the Tabloid Stories About the DPRK Are Utterly False

There were probably at least one hundred Americans in Pyongyang at the same time as me, due in large part to foreign amateur runners being allowed to compete for the first time in the marathon. One couple testified how this was their second visit after having traveled to DPRK the year before. They mentioned how they were a bit scared to come the previous time, because it was right after a story had hit the news about Kim Jong Un having had his ex-girlfriend and others killed for making a porn tape. The couple talked about how they walked into an Opera in Pyongyang, and as they sat down noticed that the very women who were supposed to be dead were sitting directly across from them. Walking dead, indeed! Other recent stories to hit the western press via South Korean tabloids regarding mass executions in stadiums or Kim Jong Un’s uncle being fed to a pack of hungry dogs are also said to be non-sense by westerners who travel there frequently and know the country’s situation well. This isn’t to say anything about the existence of political re-education camps or prisons, but an all-out demonization campaign against the country that completely distorts it is of no service to the Korean people.

13. Koreans Will Not Hesitate To Make You Join In Their Fun

There were a number of events organized in Pyongyang on the occasion of Kim Il Sung’s birthday, which is a national holiday where people have two days off of work. Some of these were publically organized, like the “mass dances” where hundreds of people dance in large squares to popular Korean songs. Others involved people in the park having family lunches while the kids bought ice cream from vendors and drunk grannies danced hilariously because they had far too much home-made soju. But, just like in any authoritarian state, you must participate! Being shy is not an option, as they will pull you by the arm and teach you every dance move even if they themselves are not quite doing it correctly.

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In short, I found the Korean people in the north to be some of the warmest, most authentic human beings I’ve ever had the chance to interact with. It would be silly to refer to the country as a “workers’ paradise” due to the depth of problems it faces. As in all societies, there are positive aspects and negative ones. However, considering that they have overcome centuries of imperial domination, the loss of about a quarter of their population in the Korean War, and continue to maintain their social system in the face of a continued state of war, they have done tremendously well. The accomplishments in free education through university, the non-existence of homelessness, and a proud and dignified people should be presented in order to gain a fuller, more nuanced picture of the country.

I must say that the way that the DPRK is portrayed in the western bourgeois media actually says a great deal more about the effectiveness of our propaganda apparatuses and brainwashing techniques than it does about theirs. The fact that I even have to write about the surprising things I witnessed in DPRK is evidence of the serious lack of understanding we have about the country. The problems facing Korea are never contexualized as they should be – as an oppressed nation aiming to free itself from servitude to big powers intent on gobbling up every remaining state free from a dying unipolarity.

Oh, and I almost forgot about nuclear weapons! Well, let’s consider if the North Korean military was holding military drills annually off the coast of New York that simulated the carpet bombing of Manhattan and the occupation of the entirety of the country, of which they already controlled the western half. Would it not be sensible given that context for Americans to develop a nuclear deterrent? The Koreans are not war hungry or even “obsessed” with the army or military. However, given the way that the situation in Libya played out, they are all the more convinced – rightfully so – that the only reason their independent state continues to stand is due to the Songun (“military first” policy) and the existence of nuclear capabilities. To be sure, they have no intention of using it unless put in that position to have to do so.

It is my sincere desire that there will be continued cultural and people-to-people exchanges in the near future between people from the DPRK and the western countries. Pretty much all of the people who traveled with me back to Beijing were in awe of just how different their experience was compared to what they had expected. They – like myself – gained a great deal from the humanizing experience of interacting with Koreans. Although westerners are relatively free to travel much more so than DPRK citizens, it’s ironic how the Koreans seemingly know a great deal more about us than we know about them. That will need to change in the years to come.

Mar 152014
 

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Good News on the Vegan Front
By Omowale Adewale

The first quarter of my 100 vegan campaign is soon coming to an end. I am happy to report on Julie Chang Schulman and Tamrah Little who have been vegan for 74 days and both lost 30lbs and 42lbs respectively. Wow!!

Truth is, I have never met anyone who has turned vegan and adopted an approach that absorbs nutrition from a variety of whole foods and sustains an active lifestyle not lose unwanted weight quickly and naturally.

Tamrah and Julie have thoughtfully credited me and the #GoVeg2014 campaign for inspiring their switch, but the reality is it takes true compassion and love for living things and a strong understanding for justice to make yourself happy. And that inspires me.

Tamrah reported on March 6th after going vegan on January 1, 2014, the launch of #GoVeg2014, “…Though I’ve had plenty of slip ups on this journey so far, I know my health, my family, the planet and of course the animals are benefiting from it.” She also recognized her family and friends as being supportive to her vegan efforts.

These slip ups she revealed are eating products with whey, casein or “natural flavor” (which may mean animal product). These common issues will be ironed out when new vegans become more aware in religiously reading their labels and as we as a community push for more transparency in nutrition labeling with sensible legislation.

Tamrah, like many new vegans also found difficulty in maintaining her new lifestyle outside of the home when she goes out to restaurants. Julie also does what many vegans do in this predicament: eat French fries. But they have stayed true.

This is America and a lifestyle change can have its bumps and bruises. Some American cities are just less vegan-friendly than others, but as time goes on, being vegan does get easier.

Vegans will choose restaurants with less death on their plates; they will ask what’s available and if there are compassionate substitutions. I don’t have to reiterate what the benefit is. However, I will inform you if you’ve been thinking it over with your conscience, resiliency and/or weight management issues you can only win by learning to find solutions in a world of healthy alternatives.

Today, I am over a year being vegan. Although, I have been vegetarian for 20 years prior to, I feel the positive difference immensely. My strength has continued to increase and so has my recovery during training for tonight’s mixed-martial arts fight. This is why professional boxer Timothy Bradley turns vegan during his training and I am hoping he will live a lifestyle this way soon! You feel awesome, but, there’s a game plan.

Many vegans have their favorite foods. However, getting a nutritionally balanced-meal in for the length of the day or week is the key to a long and healthy life. That means raw foods in the morning like cereal made from granola or rolled oats with raisins and bananas helps give you your fruit and grains.

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A fun option for lunch can be an eggplant hero w/out cheese, make the cheese yourself from nut-milk or buy a substitute “cheese” from your local supermarket. With your lunch, have a seaweed and sunflower seed salad. Make a bean burrito and or burger out of beans and rice.

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Dinner can be a split-pea or lentil soup with onions and tomatoes. This way, vegans not only get their vegetables and legumes, you eat a meal with complete protein and sufficient iron, calcium and b12 for the entire day.

For more background on 100 vegans in 2014 aka #GoVeg2014, check out my new radio interview with Our Hen House. If you are interested in reaping all the reward of going vegan and need support for recipes, exercises, vegan locations in your area and other tips find “Going Vegan 2014” on facebook and register at #GoVeg2014 for live conversations and our mailing list.

Feb 282014
 

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Black History, Veganized
By Omowale Adewale

Yesterday, I completed a 10-mile run in hopes of elevating my training to another level prior to my March 15th mixed martial arts fight. The shredded oats, granola (I like oats), raisins, hemp seeds and goji berries in almond milk helped me prepare for this sudden long haul. One cup has over 30 grams of complete protein, 100+ grams of carbohydrates, and sufficient amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, niacin, vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B12 can be obtained from rice milk, yeast extract and organic soy products. 1

For two weeks, I relied on weight training and no running. Muscles act as shocks which absorbs the concrete ground impact thus weakening your muscles. I’ve sworn off running into the double-digit numbers solely based on my poor legs, feet and battle-ridden knees. Years of sports has eroded much of the cartilage in my knees. The hard pavement provides no soft impact for worn knees. Nonetheless, long distance runners will always prefer the outdoors to treadmills. But, at age 35, my right shin is a bit bruised and my left foot alone has a couple sprains. So, why start my run after 12:30am? Triumph. Accomplish a crazy dare to myself. But especially, to provide my bruised soul some solace. My heart aches.

Two days ago, a giant in the movement for people’s justice, Chokwe Lumumba died. Some may not be familiar with that name. It doesn’t have the resounding effect as Jay-Z or Barack Obama. Without casting blame on the ignorant, if we’re fair, there’s a profound contradiction with that ignorance. You know of celebrities and leaders of symbolism, but not of men who’ve spent their lives fighting for justice. The Honorable Lumumba had worked on numerous fronts of justice; as both a civil servant as the Mayor of Jackson, MS and as a lifelong revolutionary. He was the founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a former member of the Republic for New Afrika. As an attorney his clients included Assata Shakur and the ancestors Geronimo Pratt and Tupac Shakur. 2

I knew of his work, but I had only met the Honorable Chokwe Lumumba one time only days before his Mayoral run-off. His daughter Rukia Lumumba, a dear friend and comrade introduced me to him at a support event in New York. While, it was a pretty relaxed event, I had to be the most casually dressed person there. I was in the midst of training. Rukia said a few words about my work, yet, I felt disheveled and off. Luckily, for me, candidates such as Lumumba are more interested in tangibles over appearances and symbols. Later, my mentor and elected revolutionary Charles Barron walks in and the three of us begin discussing politics. As I reflect back to our discussion time with the two foremost elected revolutionary men in office, a huge void has become heartbreakingly apparent to me. It will take maybe a thousand souls and several hundred years of combined experience to adequately complement the legacy, integrity and work that the Honorable Lumumba left behind. As I send all my hopes and positive energies into the atmosphere wishing that the whirlwind of hurt subsides sooner than later for the Lumumba family, I realize that not only did the black community, but the world community concerned for social, political and economic justice suffered a setback.

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At about the seventh or eighth mile I was ready to stop. My legs were breaking down. I jog with weights on both ankles and dumbbells in my hands. It signifies the weight my opponent prepares to place upon me during competition. I thought about how small this sacrifice was to just one of Harriet Tubman’s journey’s toward the North and then the weight on the backs of those rotting away in the “free world” for their political beliefs, our black political prisoners. I completed that run with my body broken down and prepared for more work, higher work. I want to support 5-10 black activists become vegans as part of the campaign to help 100 people go vegan in 2014. #GoVeg2014

After posting my article “Weight Training for Vegans” several nutritionists responded about how much extra protein one would need to accomplish going vegan. The fact that they would place their professions on the line with such inaccuracies was unfathomable. There isn’t a protein deficiency plaguing the black community, or in any part of America. Heart disease is the reigning number one killer in the black community. Last time I checked, cholesterol, a micronutrient generated by your body’s liver is heavily stacked in the three main ingredients on a roll of bacon, egg and cheese is the main contributor to LDL (low-density lipoPROTEIN), which is known to causes stroke and cardiac arrest through clogging. 3

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It’s not difficult being vegan. It’s difficult being a radical vegan. Explaining to some in plain language about the health of living creatures and the health of humans becomes testy and more about taste buds and tradition. Traditionally, in America black people were brought to this country as slaves to work for white America. That tradition has made some reliant on black slaves, as there are 2 million people tied to prisons. Tradition is not a good argument for eating meat. I should point out that using the argument of animals being enslaved in some comparison to blacks having been enslaved is not a bright one. If it were so equitable and plain, all radical vegans would recognize and wrestle with their white privilege.

What is real justice? Justice, aside from objectively righting a wrong is supporting that which is not always in your personal, sole, limited, subjective and self-interest. That is whites challenging white privilege and white power globally in the face of their own racial status and bank accounts. It looks like men standing up to men for women whenever necessary in the face of our jewels and born patriarchy. That looks like human-beings becoming vegan in spite of our stomachs or what’s fashionable.

Some of you may gripe about these issues. Know that I genuinely care and I am accessible to you. But also know that justice is not limited to your personal story, your job title or your feelings. Until justice can be achieved there can be none. I invite you to break bread with me and discuss politics and veganism this Saturday March 1st at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival. From 1-2pm, I will be at table #6 as a guest of Gardein. And from 3-6pm, I will be at table #28 (note this new table) as a guest of Amrita Health Foods.

Visit nycvegfoodfest.com for more information.

#GoVeg2014

1 http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6386?fg=&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=&qlookup=oats

2 http://www.thenation.com/article/178546/chokwe-lumumba-revolutionary-end#

3 http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300301.pdf

Feb 252014
 

BE SEKOU by M-1 & Divine

Written and Performed by M-1 and Divine

Produced by M-1, Divine, and Digitalglo

Video Directed by Jamal Joseph

Photography, Editing, Visual Effects by Joel Davenport – www.gugohi.com

Produced by Jamal Joseph and Joel Davenport

Production Manager: Dietrice Bolden

Additional Photography: Ryce

Featuring:

Impact Repertory Theater
Abiodun Oyewole
Hassan “GIANT” Yasin
The Bartendaz
The Order of the Feather Fraternity

Special Thanks:

Sister Dequi
The Sekou Odinga Defense Committee
Brother Bullwhip
Neal Shoemaker & Harlem Heritage Tours
The Dwyer Cultural Center
A Harlem Film Company/New Heritage Films Production

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Feb 052014
 

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Do Not Turn Killer George Zimmerman into a Reality Show Star

By Ayman El-Sayed

As if we do not have enough crappy reality TV shows and people doing whatever embarrassing or outlandish things to become reality TV stars now the murderer of 17 year old Trayvon Martin is weaseling his way into becoming one by asking to fight a celebrity.

Rapper The Game accepted the challenge but now reports are that DMX will be the one fighting Zimmerman instead. I’m opposed to celebrities or anyone for that matter accepting his offer for several reasons.

First of all, he will be profiting off of the killing of Trayvon Martin by possibly getting a paycheck for this fight. He is using his “fame” or notoriety after getting away with shooting to death a young unarmed teenager as a way to get his foot into the reality show world.

His offer to fight a celebrity has garnered him a lot of attention and that is his goal. I believe he is using this fight opportunity to eventually pitch a new reality show or to join one of the countless ones in existence already.

Second of all, it won’t bring justice or peace to the Martin family even if Zimmerman loses and gets beaten. Many have argued that they will be joyed to see Zimmerman get beat up and their feelings are understandable but if it’s going to lead him to more money making opportunities then it’s not worth it.

Zimmerman should be shunned and isolated from greater society for what he has done. He should live every moment thinking about that night and his assumptions and decisions that led him to murder a teenager walking home from the store. He should live with regret and struggle to make ends meet as a form of punishment since the justice system failed the family of Trayvon Martin. Instead he is making money off of what he did in the form of a painting he drew which sold for $100,000 on eBay and now with this fight.

Even if George Zimmerman loses the fight he still wins. He wins by getting paid for the fight. He wins by using the fight as a way to catapult himself into more reality TV. He wins by trivializing the death of Trayvon Martin and turning this very serious injustice into a mockery.

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Third, we should be talking about racial profiling, the stand your ground law, the ways the cops handled the case, the injustice in the court verdict and the double standards of it all not focusing on a boxing match that will only benefit a murderer and not the Martin family.

Racist killings of innocent black men and women have continued even after the murder of Trayvon Martin. All of us, including these celebrities, should be putting our energy into organizing people and speaking out against injustice, racial profiling and murder.

One way to honor Trayvon Martin and his family would be to stop another racist killing like that from happening not allowing the killer to profit from it.

The opinions reflected in this article are those of Ayman El-Sayed and do not necessarily represent the views of Existence is Resistance.