Peruvian peasant leader and ecosocialist activist Hugo Blanco gave a talk here last week. He started it with a dark joke: “When I was young, I was struggling for a better world for future generations. Now I’m struggling for there to be a world for future generations.” I hesitate to summarize but Hugo talked about the vital links between the indigenous struggle in Latin America and the struggle that we all need to undertake to defend and protect the planet.
The concept of taking direction from indigenous peoples in working to protect the environment seems right to me, as we need to transition towards models of stewardship with respect to natural resources, the model that indigenous peoples have been defending for centuries. But naturally the concept of following indigenous peoples in a place like Cambridge (or any European or North American city) is somewhat difficult to understand. We can’t undo industrialism here; most of us are going to get our food in markets and not through growing it; and our alienation from the land is not something we can (or should) simply try to turn back. But for Hugo following indigenous peoples doesn’t necessarily mean living like them–it means supporting them through lobbying our governments in support of environmental protection.
Hugo told a story about a friend of his in Sweden. His friend loves going to supermarkets, Hugo said: because there he gets to see all the things he can be happy without. I loved this story and it seemed clear to me that this implies an excellent reading for Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California.”
The wanderer in the supermarket sees in the pork chops, the peaches, the watermelons, all that he doesn’t need to be happy. Compare Ginsberg’s litany to Leaves of Grass where observation never turns into possession; that’s the case in the supermarket as well. Possession is unnecessary. Following Whitman and Garcia Lorca leads us to marvel in the bright fruit and frozen delicacies that we don’t need.
Ah Hugo Blanco, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher–what Americas will we have?