By Liza Smith
It’s the eleventh day of the tour and we’ve introduced a new word to both the Spanish and English languages — it is a cross between “tranquila” which means “relaxed” and is a pop cultural reference to Transylvania: the place in Romania where vampires originated and the planet where the dancing extra-terrestrial transvestites in Rocky Horror Picture Show come from.
Our new word is tranquilandia and it describes the peaceful world of our van; everything else is a rush between places and people, a different bed every night, new streets and getting lost, loading and unloading our suitcases at each stop. But in the van we chill, take a deep breath and reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. Right now, somewhere between Wooster, Ohio and Allentown, Pennsylvania, we just passed a sign that read, “Dusty Bibles Lead to Dirty Lives” and a confederate flag. It’s slightly raining and Jill Scott is playing in our world of Tranquilandia.
I take this opportunity to chat with Paula about her impressions of the tour so far. What has she liked the most? The yellow leaves she says (we’ve taken a number of pictures featuring Paula and the leaves) and the egg quiche that we ate this morning for breakfast. She’s a bit tired (we’ve been packing it in and always seem to be running a bit behind schedule) and she misses Colombia too.
I ask Paula what inspires her about what she has seen up to this point? She talks about one interesting and exciting example of campus organizing: the Coke boycott. A student we recently met at Loyola University described the organizing process — collect as many signatures as possible among the students and present a petition to the university, with information about the human rights abuses in Colombia in which Coke is implicated and then pressure the university to cancel the contract. Paula saw value in this strategy because organizers don’t have to depend on the usual avenues of state infrastructure (like lobbying politicians), but rather can push for a change in their own community and in the process educate and politicize as many folks as possible.
Next I asked her what seemed like the biggest challenge or obstacle to doing this work in the US? She responded that the students at each campus focus on the war in Iraq or Colombia or maybe another crisis in another place, but notices that the tendency is to focus on issues “over there” and that it seems there aren’t local issues that unite them where they are. For example, at Wooster College after talking about the relationship between displacement and militarism in both Colombia and Detroit, we brought the discussion back into the here and now — and talked about race relations on campus. The all white audience at our panel recognized that while there might not be overt racism at their school, there are “invisible lines that divide us.” Paula connects these “invisible lines” to a culture of individualism where everybody has their own computer, phone, house and car and where people don’t step across those invisible lines to be interested in one another’s struggles. During her talks she often shares how the Red Juvenil also fights against the forces of individualism and works to create a horizontal structure based on a culture of collectivity and solidarity.
Paula talks about how students have access to so much information and many possibilities to learn about different issues. She wonders what makes a person take a step beyond their own education and move into action. How can we encourage folks to go beyond just learning about the issues? With these questions unanswered we continue orbiting in our world of Tranquilandia and head to the next stop — Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.