June 8, 2009

"In These Times" Features Mark Nowak's Coal Mountain Elementary

Ian Teh CME.jpg
Photo by Ian Teh who collaborated with Mark on CME

In the June issue of In These Times, contributing editor Kari Lyderson provides a compelling analysis of Mark's new book, Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). The following is an excerpt from Lyderson's article.

Coal Mountain Elementary is an artful, stark and slightly surreal weave of several narratives that portray the human toll of coal mining on families and communities and the way the industry is embedded in our global society, in part through highly strategic efforts like the American Coal Foundation’s curriculum.

The book is a collage of excerpts from the curriculum, testimony from the Sago disaster, news reports of mining disasters in China, and desolate yet eerily beautiful photos of Sago and of Chinese miners and mines. (The breathtaking Chinese photos are by photojournalist Ian Teh.)

The stranger-than-fiction curriculum prods students to write inspiring stories about mining company towns and teaches how to make “coal flowers”—lumps of coal adorned with paper and fabric held together by congealing ammonia, salt and “laundry bluing,” which the curriculum helpfully advises can be purchased through women’s magazines.

Nowak sees the book as his contribution to the growing debate over—and opposition to—coal’s role as a primary global energy source. Without preaching or delving into the environmental effects that are documented elsewhere, Coal Mountain Elementary shows the inherent danger and violence of the industry, and it quietly celebrates the strength and resilience of miners and their families.

April 27, 2009

Nowak's 'Coal Mountain Elementary' Featured on PBS NewsHour

PBS: The Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
24 April 2009
BY Mike Melia

Lizz Clements:The Inter-Mountain.jpg
"DRESS REHEARSAL" for the play version of Coal Mountain Elementary.
Photo by: Lizz Clements/The Inter-Mountain

Download Mark Melia's interview with Mark Nowak where Nowak discusses the significant local and global social-economic issues that his new book, Coal Mountain Elementary, exposes.

Click here for NewsHour's article on the book as well as a video clip from a recent performance by Davis & Elkins College of West Virginia.

Click here to go to Nowak's blog, which chronicles daily in numbers and stories coal mining accidents and deaths globally.

February 22, 2009

"Women are Heroes" by JR

This "trailer" is a brilliant piece of mixed-media, electronic sound, and vocal echoes--all of which are assembled as a shout-back to Kenyan civil wars where--as is always the case globally--women and girls become the targets of masculinity's phallic weapons.

(March 2008/06:17)

Ann Njogu, director of Centre for Rights, Education and Awareness of Women or CREAW "argues that in addition to having their property destroyed and being forced to flee from their homes, women's 'bodies were also used as the war zone - a battlefield for opposing forces that often times included the police'" (Pambazuka News: A Weekly Forum for Social Justice in Africa).

Continue reading ""Women are Heroes" by JR" »

January 31, 2009

La música y la historía de Asere

I was just reminiscing (or should I say daymaring?) about my life in Chi-Town & then found online--finally--the group (& the song) that truly got me through the complexities of living there before Mark came into my live.

January 28, 2009

Asere singing "Romantica"

November 27, 2008

Conversations with Raul Castro about Obama, Guantánamo and the Pentagon; and with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Human Rights in His Country and the Next US Administration

From The Nation
25 November 2008

This article is an adapted excerpt of the essay/interview "A Mountain of Snakes," which will appear in full December 1 at

Soon to be Vice President-elect Joe Biden was rallying the troops: "We can no longer be energy dependent on Saudi Arabia or a Venezuelan dictator." Well, I know what Saudi Arabia is. But having been to Venezuela in 2006, touring slums, mixing with the wealthy opposition and spending days and hours at its president's side, I wondered, without wondering, to whom Senator Biden was referring. Hugo Chávez Frías is the democratically elected president of Venezuela (and by democratically elected I mean that he has repeatedly stood before the voters in internationally sanctioned elections and won large majorities, in a system that, despite flaws and irregularities, has allowed his opponents to defeat him and win office, both in a countrywide referendum last year and in regional elections in November). And Biden's words were the kind of rhetoric that had recently led us into a life-losing and monetarily costly war, which, while toppling a shmuck in Iraq, had also toppled the most dynamic principles upon which the United States was founded, enhanced recruitment for Al Qaeda and deconstructed the US military.

Continue reading "Conversations with Raul Castro about Obama, Guantánamo and the Pentagon; and with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Human Rights in His Country and the Next US Administration" »

June 24, 2008

"Zimbabwe in Crisis: Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai Withdraws from Run-Off Against Robert Mugabe"

From Democracy Now!
23 June 2008


We in the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process,�? Tsvangirai said. At least eighty-six supporters of the MDC have been killed, and thousands more have been injured."

Grace Kwinjeh, Journalist and political activist. She is one of the founders of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a member of its National Executive Committee. She was arrested and beaten up multiple times in Zimbabwe and now lives in South Africa. On March 11 of last year, she was beaten nearly to death, along with Morgan Tsvangirai.

AMY GOODMAN: In Zimbabwe, election officials have said a June 27th runoff presidential vote will go ahead despite the withdrawal of the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, pulled out of the presidential election second round runoff on Sunday, saying increasing violence had made a free and fair election impossible.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: We in the MDC have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process. The courageous people of Zimbabwe, of this country, and the people of the MDC have done everything humanely and democratically possible to deliver a new Zimbabwe under a new government. This violent, retributive agenda has seen over 200,000 internally displaced, over 86,000 MDC supporters killed, over 20,000 homes have been destroyed, and over 10,000 people have been injured and maimed in this orgy of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe in a March 29 vote but failed to win the absolute majority needed to avoid a second ballot. He has called on the United Nations and the African Union to intervene to stop the violence.

The United States and Britain said they are prepared to bring Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council this week, while South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating in the crisis, called for further dialogue between the two parties.

Grace Kwinjeh is one of the founders of Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change. She’s a member of its National Executive Committee. She was arrested and beaten up multiple times in Zimbabwe. She now lives in South Africa, where she joins us on the phone.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Grace. Hello, Grace.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening now, the significance of Tsvangirai pulling out of the presidential runoff?

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, the Movement for Democratic Change has taken the hard decision to pull out of what has really become a big charade. And the violence is increasing, because we are seeing right now the MDC offices are being raided by armed police. The rank and file of the MDC is being targeted. The secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change is in police custody right now, being charged with treason, which carries a death penalty. So the situation is [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Grace, we’re having trouble—Grace, we’re having trouble hearing you. If you could—are you driving, or are you on the street? We can hardly hear you.


AMY GOODMAN: Hi. That’s better. Could you say what you were saying—

GRACE KWINJEH: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, could you what you were just saying again? We had trouble hearing you. Grace, we’re going to call you right back. We’ll go to a music break, and then we’re going to go right back to you.

Grace Kwinjeh is in Johannesburg. She’s a journalist and political activist. She’s one of the founders of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, a member of its National Executive Committee. She has been beaten up many times in Zimbabwe, now living in South Africa. We’ll come back to Grace Kwinjeh in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We attempt now to reach Grace Kwinjeh and get a clearer line. She is in South Africa. She’s one of the founders of the Zimbabwean main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate of this party, has just pulled out of the presidential runoff.

Grace Kwinjeh, we’re going to try it again. Explain the significance of this weekend’s pullout by Tsvangirai.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, I think it was a tough decision for the MDC leadership to make, given that, you know, the MDC won the March elections at the presidential, at the parliamentary and at local government level. But the election was increasingly becoming a charade, in the sense that [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Grace, have you moved? Because we no longer can understand what you’re saying. If you could keep the phone right on your ear; don’t have it on speaker phone. We’re just having some trouble.

GRACE KWINJEH: OK, it’s on my ear. Basically, right now, as I speak, there are over thirty military trucks at the MDC headquarters in Harare. They are raiding [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Grace Kwinjeh, I’m sorry, but we just cannot understand you. I guess there’s some kind of movement, or there’s just trouble on the phone, but you’re breaking up.

GRACE KWINJEH: No, I can hear you clearly.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, try it one more time.

GRACE KWINJEH: OK. Well, I just think that it has been a very tough position for the MDC leadership to take. But then they had the option of being part of a big election charade or actually not legitimizing it.

AMY GOODMAN: What will happen now that Tsvangirai has pulled out? Mugabe has vowed to continue with this election, although he’s the only candidate.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, he will still lack the moral authority to [inaudible] and he’s still not the elected leader, so he will not have the moral authority to be head of state in Zimbabwe. Secondly, Zimbabwe will continue to be isolated and a pariah state internationally. There will be no reengagement with the international community; it will continue to be isolated. And thirdly, unfortunately, the only route that Mugabe will have to remain in power is through increased repression, because he knows that the people [inaudible]. He’s going to continue to [inaudible] instrument of repression [inaudible]. So it’s a sad situation. But I think that the burden is being placed on Zimbabweans to do something for themselves. And I feel that South Africa, in particular, and SADC should really be treating this as a serious emergency political matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about the Southern African Development Community, the SADC leaders, especially President Mbeki, where you are in exile now, in South Africa? What can he do?

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, Mbeki has to acknowledge that Mugabe has declared war against the people of Zimbabwe. He has to acknowledge that people are being beaten up, people are being tortured, people are being murdered with impunity. So there has to be a process of accountability. And I think it is so wrong for the South African president, even up to today, to keep quiet and operate as if everything is normal in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is at war. And unfortunately, only one side is armed. So it’s the first recognition that Mugabe has declared a war against the people.

The second position for them would then be to recognize that the MDC won the March elections. So whatever transitional authority that is going to be put in place, it has to recognize that the MDC got the majority of the votes at the presidential, at parliamentary and at local government level.

And then, thirdly, they have to work on a demilitarization program, a serious one, and South Africa can do that. The army is right now on the streets. The MDC’s chairperson for youth, Tamsanqa Mahlangu, is in hospital fighting for his life. He was brutally assaulted by the army yesterday. I will not talk of those who have been shot dead in front of SADC observers. So I think President Mbeki has to come up with a more robust and more honest diplomatic solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations, what can they do? Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, called for an immediate end to the campaign of violence and intimidation that has marred the election. There’s a meeting of the Security Council.

GRACE KWINJEH: Well, basically, one, we need the Security Council to come up with a more robust resolution, and again, at that level—we do not in South Africa to be blocking the Security Council from taking action on what is going on in Zimbabwe. So we really need the UN and the Security Council to be involved. We have called [inaudible] for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to go to Zimbabwe. There’s no election and there’s no peace that is going to be possible in Zimbabwe without the presence of people who are trained in actually dealing with the military. And I think the evidence of the intimidation of SADC [inaudible] over the past days shows and creates a real case for the [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Grace Kwinjeh, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist and political activist, one of the founders of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. This weekend, Morgan Tsvangirai, the presidential candidate who was to participate in the presidential runoff on Friday, pulled out of the election.

Yesterday, front page of the New York Times in a piece by Barry Bearak and Celia Dugger—Barry Bearak is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who just over two months ago was arrested when covering Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe—wrote, “Tonderai Ndira was a shrewd choice for assassination: young, courageous and admired. Kill him and fear would pulse through a thousand spines. He was an up-and-comer in Zimbabwe’s opposition party, a charismatic figure with a strong following in the Harare slums where he lived.

“There were rumors his name was on a hit list. For weeks he prudently hid out, but his wife, Plaxedess, desperately pleaded with him to come home for a night. He slipped back to his family on May 12.

“The five killers pushed through the door soon after dawn, as Mr. Ndira, [who was] 30 [years old], slept and his wife made porridge for their two children. He was wrenched from his bed, roughed up and stuffed into the back seat of a double-cab Toyota pickup. ‘They’re going to kill me,’ he cried, Plaxedess said. As the children watched from the door, two men sat on his back, a gag was shoved in his mouth and his head was yanked upward, a technique of asphyxiation later presumed in a physician’s post mortem to be the cause of [his] death.�?

And the article goes on to say, “Even as hundreds of election observers from neighboring countries were deployed across Zimbabwe in the past few days, the gruesome killings and beatings of opposition figures have continued.�?

Talking about the body of the wife of Harare’s newly chosen mayor found Wednesday, “her face so badly bashed in that even her own brother only recognized her by her brown corduroy skirt and plaited hair. On Thursday, the bodies of four more opposition activists turned up after they had been abducted by men shouting ruling party slogans.�?