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in politics: West Hollywood to Zimbabwe
July 18, 2013
to Los Angeles a little over a month ago, I haven’t had the
chance to attend an open mic. That was until last night when I ventured
out to West Hollywood to Da Poetry Lounge. My goal was to survey
the local poets, not to read any of my own work. Through my observations,
I could not help but notice the timid voices behind powerful poetics.
To their defence, for some of them it was their first time divulging
such intimate information in a public forum, but it was rather peculiar
to me that the collective voice of the group was rather quiet.
about this general lack of confidence in a form of expression that
so heavily relies upon honesty and charisma? Seeking answers, I
looked to the protesting poets of Zimbabwe whose story is beginning
to pull the attention of the world.
streets of Harare
There are a
number of young artists acting out against political corruption,
voter fraud, a manipulation of public opinion, and a general lack
of fundamental liberties in an effort to hold their leaders accountable.
They call themselves, “Zimbabwe
Poets for Human Rights” and they are potentially in the
midst of changing their political landscape with a presidential
election coming up on July 31st.
president Robert Mugabe has served in is position since 1987, winning
four subsequent elections since. Starting in 2002, his campaigns
have been riddled with accusations of various kinds of fraud. Policies
like the Public Order and Security Act and the Miscellaneous Offences
Act have been put in place to seemingly interfere and suppress public
opinion and voter turnout.
These acts grant
additional power to the executive party and police force through
the limitations they set upon the public. Some of these provisions
include punishments for unauthorized wearing of camouflage, ringing
a bell, playing music in a public place, or generally appearing
mischievous (Miscellaneous Offences Act). In 2005 over 700,000 individuals
lost their homes and businesses through Operation
Murambatsvina. Opposing political parties, as well as the United
Nations argue that this was a way of ostracizing many of the less
affluent communities in Zimbabwe by forcibly removing them from
their homes for what the administration claims to be an effort to
stem illegal housing and the spread of infectious disease. After
all of this, it is safe to assume that many of the citizens have
had enough. Their current form of protest is poetry, their prose
acting as an effort to both rally and inform the public of the alleged
Poets for Human Rights
of Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights, Robson Issac Shoes Lambada,
has been on the forefront of this cultural crusade to hold their
leaders accountable for their actions, as well as working to enact
both political and voter reform. In his poem, “Politicians
and Governancy,” he expresses the need for the public to head
to the polls to promote this type of change. “Voting is the
beginning of the end of complaining,” he says with conviction,
“And abstaining is donating your right to choosing. I choose
to choose by voting and choose laughing over fighting, voting over
sloganeering and voting over fighting”.
In West Hollywood
many cries were similar to those of the Zimbabwe protesters; though
not with the same sense of enthusiasm, conviction, or urgency. Their
words rang true, there was no doubt about that, but they came out
as murmurs. Thoughts of police brutality, racial barriers, media
censorship, and fallen soldiers plague the pasts of some of these
Southern California poets. Many gave off the feeling of being helplessly
trapped in a system that is entirely out of their control. Their
general distaste in the current state of our society was not complemented
with a resolution. The death of the young man Trayvon Martin acted
as inspiration to many of these young poets as they try to come
to terms with, what they felt was, a police officer getting away
with murder. One particular poet wore a hooded sweatshirt in solidarity
for the deceased Martin. While the audience generally supported
the young woman as she read, the passion was nowhere to be found
in the room. There was no outrage, no tears, only a lightly struck
chord that faded away once the next poet began.
Poets for Human Rights are in a position to have a genuine impact
in their looming elections as they seek a change to their current
state of life and many are not going to sit idly by. Having been
under oppressive circumstances for decades now, they aim for the
restoration of their essential human rights. Their passion comes
from recognizing the opportunity for improvement in a bleak situation
that once may have been out of their control.
What is it going
to take for western poets to do the same and rise up as a unified
voice? It’s a gentle balance between facing great societal
injustices and having a platform to bring about change. At this
very moment, the content is already there, it’s just a matter
of finding a suitable voice to broadcast it. If an election is what
it takes to usher in some form of poetic justice nowadays, we have
three long years ahead of us. We can either stay silent in apathy
or make as much noise as we possibly can. The Zimbabwe Poets for
Human Rights chose the latter and we could be in the beginning stages
of our own poetic movement if things continue down this path; for
the more that is at risk, the louder voices become.
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