Monday, January 18, 2010

We remember on MLK's Birthday......."Denis Brutus Passes, a reflection" by Pittsburgh CW Vincent Eirene

Dennis Brutus passes, a reflection


by Vincent Scotti Eirene' | 01.18.2010


A powerful elder has left us with the passing of visionary poet and

runner Dennis Vincent Brutus. After decades of work in South Africa

including leading the effort to expel the country from the Olympic

games in 1970, he won asylum status in the United States just in time

to shepherd the rise of the anti-apartheid student movement. He went

on to be an international leader in the movement against corporate

Globalization, the Jubilee movement for debt relief, and the call for

swift action to slow climate change. He passed on December 26, 2009.


During the Cold War, people around the world lived with a fear that

simply could not be expressed in words. In response to the inevitable

and the unthinkable, a great many of us relinquished our status as

spectators, sometimes spending years in jail for creative acts of

civil disobedience. At one point, nuclear resistance meant that I

spent a year in jail for crossing the line at Pantex, the country's

only nuclear bomb factory, located in Amarillo, Texas.  At the time,

this facility was producing five nuclear weapons a day. Our nonviolent

campaign against Carnegie Mellon University's military contracting was

in high gear, with a group of us bypassing traditional organizations

to hit the streets with our cries for sanity and peace. One day I

received a call from Denis Brutus, a Professor at the University of

Pittsburgh, who asked to meet me. At the time, all I knew of him was

that he was from South Africa. After settling in at a local espresso

cafe he shared with me this story about his early days of activism.


In the early 1960s, Dennis was among a group of athletes campaigning

to have South Africa thrown out of the Olympics for its apartheid

policies and laws. By 1963 his political activity caught up with him

and he was placed under arrest. When the arresting officer told him to

stay put and went off to summon help, inspiration struck: after all,

Dennis was one of the fastest runners in Africa. It was while fleeing

on foot that returning soldiers spotted him and shot him in the back.

In front of the Anglo-American Corporation headquarters, Dennis nearly

died while waiting for a "blacks only" ambulance. Subsequently, he

spent eighteen months in jail on Robbens Island before being deported.

The man in the next cell was Nelson Mandela.


The day that we met, Dennis matter-of-factly told me that he could not

return home. I sat there for a long time, unable to speak. He then

pumped me for information on my anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons

activism, my work against CMU's military contracting, and my work with

the homeless. From then on, he came to our non-violent direct actions

against the school for its military contracting, and many times he was

the only professor in attendance. Dennis was always very encouraging

-- a quality sorely missing from the activist community.


In 1989 the unimaginable happened:  the Berlin Wall came down. Over

the years, over 200 people were shot attempting to cross it -- the

Cold War had its symbol and reality. But on that day in 1989, the race

to hell was finally over, with people taking sledge hammers to the

results of our hard hearts, our system of greed, and our willingness

to destroy the world over political and philosophical differences.

Less than a year later another seemingly indestructible barrier fell

-- apartheid in South Africa. When I saw Dennis at a local celebration

he still seemed sad, still had the posture of a man without a home.

But I could also sense the relief that over twenty years of exile were

over. On that day, he stood a bit taller.


I would not see Dennis again until I went to Atlanta in the summer of

1996. That year, parts of the city with low-income housing, poor

people, and various social services were removed to provide lodgings,

trendy shops, and cafes for those attending the Olympics. With the

arrival of the Olympic flag, five thousand protesters assembled to

draw public attention to the costs of hosting the Games. During the

week long anti-Olympic conference Dennis was a key speaker, talking

about how sports had the power to challenge the powers that be, and

how the Olympics were not to be used as a weapon against the

disfranchised. Dennis was not surprised to see me, and greeted me as

if welcoming home an old friend.


Eventually, Dennis as able to return to Johannesburg to teach and

spent his last years traveling as an activist focused on fighting

Globalization and the corporations that would not allow his home to

rise out of shanty poverty. He and others also started the Jubilee

movement. Taking its cue from the biblical year of release that freed

those enslaved for debts, they worked to get World Bank countries to

forgive the debts of the developing world instead of forcing free

market reforms (such as relaxing labor and environmental laws) that as

often as not damage the people they are meant to help. These

activities got Dennis branded an "ultra-leftist" by his comrades in

the ANC.


It was the summer before Dennis died that I ran into him at the

Pittsburgh International Airport. We sat and talked. He seemed much,

much older. We spoke about the upcoming G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and

the call for swift action for the environment.


Last November, on his birthday, he shared an open letter to members of

the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference predicting the

compromises that will deeply affect the future of South Africa. His

final public words railed against corporate Globalization and the

banks and countries that enable them. These words were spoken from his

hospital bed -- the words of someone who deserved to retire, to rest

and spend his last days writing his memoirs. Instead, this South

African athlete ran until he could run more.


Vincent Scotti Eirene



PO Box 99332, PITTSBURGH PA 15233

Ph: 414 - 231-2766



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