My grandmothers sang
in the Master’s tongue,
for their own were beaten into forgetting.
Songs of Kingdom come; songs of rhythm for picking,
songs to endure the soreness and shame
of being something less than human.
My grandfathers spent their days
bent over fields,
robbed of all decency and dignity
until rent flesh
and inhuman cruelty
finally overtook their clinging
to the miserable shadow of a life. Slavery was obvious then.
Some would say it has long since been transcended,
that we understand now that all humans are equal.
But some Orwellian axioms
are taken as scripture by the profiteers
and those “more equal” make the rules.
There is no way that I should be able to buy a pair of jeans
or pound of corn
for a handful of change. My cells remember the agony of picking cotton,
my lungs the ache of its toxic fibers,
how it sticks to the hands,
cutting them in a thousand tiny ways that never fully heal.
Today a 13 year-old girl
is bent over a sewing machine in India
with that same cotton;
unable to leave,
praying for the better life she was promised.
A tired old man is bent over the dirt in Mexico,
picking fruit he will never eat,
for a restaurant he will never see,
in a country that would call him illegal.
All for the hope that his children will be free of the poverty
that seems as endless and vast as the mono-cropped fields before him.
A 6 year-old boy in the Ivory Coast is dragging 100 pound bags
and using a machete to open a pod he has to hold with his bare hand,
hoping he will work quickly enough to avoid another beating,
resenting the very thought of the chocolate he will never taste.
But heaven forbid Levi’s go up a few dollars,
or we pay the real cost of growing real food,
or we give up our fancy gadgets and fast lifestyles so that factory workers can keep their hands,
indigenous tribes can keep their lands, and children can keep their freedom.
When you have no real choice,
which lesser evil do you choose? Slavery lives on.
Our most tenacious addiction,
made of mistaking power for value
and difference for distance.
How we convince ourselves
generation after generation
that we are powerless to change the system
that gives us just enough to keep us on our knees.
The Master that has no face, but many,
who whips us with the threat of poverty
and the illusion of hierarchy,
until there is no fight left,
and we pass a prison to our children
in this so-called land of the free. Looking through the ages,
we see slavery is an inside job,
perpetrated on ourselves, on each other, on the Mother,
passing along our debts and our pain
until there is nothing left but miles of chains
and the broken world we have built on other people’s backs. There is no living being more equal than any other.
These ideas are created in the monstrous minds of oppressors
who are already, themselves, oppressed.
There is no true prosperity for one unless there is prosperity for all.
It is time for a new song.
To compost this strange fruit, this strange and bitter crop.
To educate, to inspire, to remember each other.
To lift one another, so we can all rise to the top.
The responsibility of the information age,
is that now is when we can make slavery stop.