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George Altshuler
George Altshuler is a journalist who recently returned from six months teaching print and radio journalism in Anse-à-Pitres, Haiti. He has written for publications in the Bay Area and Vermont.

Is Haiti our Next Iraq? American Exceptionalism and Botched Reconstructions


by: on February 20th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

A U.S. soldier oversees Haitian workers unloading relief supplies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2009. Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Following the earthquake in Haiti and the invasion of Iraq, U.S. policymakers turned to America’s traditional sources of strength to reconstruct these countries. They deployed the private sector, the military and huge amounts of money. In both cases, relying on these strengths simply hasn’t worked.

The failures of U.S. efforts to reconstruct Iraq have been well documented, and the recent upsurge in violence speaks for itself. Despite areas of progress in Haiti since the earthquake, the U.S. recovery effort there has in many ways been a similar fiasco.

Last month, on the fourth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake, roughly one out of every six people in Port-au-Prince still slept in a tent camp. The country remains poor; its place on the UN development index has fallen by 16 countries since the earthquake. Despite Bill Clinton’s call to “build Haiti back better,” both Haiti and Iraq show the limits of what the United States can accomplish with its customary methods.

The most overreaching application of American power in these two countries has been the unrestrained use of the U.S. private sector. In Haiti, 48 percent of USAID funds following the earthquake went to contracts for U.S. for-profit companies. Granted, many Haitians institutions were literally flattened by the quake, but a 2013 USAID study showed that Haitian NGOs had received less than 1 percent of aid.

As with the reconstruction in Iraq, the billions designated for recovery in Haiti haven’t been spent transparently. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee that would require a comprehensive report on spending in Haiti. Barbara Lee’s role may sound familiar: she also fought to uncover murky spending in Iraq.


Audio Slideshow: Perspectives on Occupy Oakland


by: on November 5th, 2011 | Comments Off

What life experiences brought people to join the Occupy Oakland general strike on November 2? And what do they hope Occupy Oakland will accomplish? A sampling of sights and sounds form the day reveals that participants came from a wide range of backgrounds and had different goals for the movement. Brenda Reed of Richmond joined Occupy Oakland because her home was put into foreclosure by Chase bank. She hopes Occupy Oakland will lead to financial reform and an equitable restructuring of our current system. Margaret B., a retired teacher from Richmond, wants Occupy Oakland to help raise consciousness and bring about the overthrow of capitalism. Kyle Kilgore of Berkeley is disabled and wants to see affordable healthcare. He explained that everything he is protesting “falls under the umbrella” of “economic justice.” More broadly, it seems that Kilgore named what ties together those who participated in the general strike: their different perspectives coalesce around a demand for economic justice.

The 99 Percent’s Precious Indignation


by: on October 10th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

from "We are the 99 Percent"

Last winter, a ninety-three-year-old Frenchman became famous for two words.

The words, “Indignez-vous!” (“become indignant!”), were the title of a booklet the man wrote urging young people to rekindle the values of the French Resistance of World War II and to fight for progressive values.

The author, Stéphane Hessel, joined the Resistance in London when he was in his twenties, returned to France to gather intelligence, and was caught by the Gestapo and waterboarded. Indignation, Hessel writes, motivated him to risk his life to fight for a better France.

His booklet struck a chord in France, where members of the Resistance are hailed as national heroes, and Hessel sold more than three-and-a-half million copies worldwide.

In the booklet, Hessel writes that indignation is the base from which meaningful political movements grow. Indignation is “precious” because it makes one “militant, strong, and engaged.”

In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has within it kernels that answer Hessel’s call.


From the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict to Homelessness: Theater to Repair the World


by: on September 27th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

A Theater of the Oppressed performance in Israel

The Israeli soldiers fixated on one of the costumes. They entered the scene, stopped the performance, and demanded the actor remove his shirt.

After a discussion, they allowed the play to continue. But the actor had to go on without half his costume.

The play was set in the same place it was performed — in front of a security checkpoint in Israel.

“With the soldiers we don’t know what will happen,” said Uri Noy Meir, an Israeli activist, new media artist, and theater practitioner who described the event. “Sometimes they turn off their jeeps and listen, and sometimes they make problems.”

This time, the soldiers stopped the play because the actor, a Palestinian, was wearing an Israeli army uniform as his costume.

The play was a production of Theater of the Oppressed, a form of theater that aims to blur the line between actor and spectator. So when the soldiers entered the scene, they became part of the theatrical event.

Noy Meir is currently collaborating with Katy Rubin, the founding artistic director of Theater of the Oppressed NYC. Rubin explained in a recent interview that unlike traditional plays, productions of Theater of the Oppressed are not complete when the actors finished their planned performance. Instead, Theater of the Oppressed hopes to encourage dialogue, and hopefully, action.