A book review of The Empty Shield: A Decision by Giacomo Donis

I believe I first got wind of Giacomo Donis’ book, The Empty Shield: A Decision (2020, Eyewear Publishing, London), in a note from my brother Bill. Apparently there was this book, self-described as a “political autobiography,” by a guy who left the US and moved to Italy, self-exiling at the height of the Vietnam war. Not only that, but it recounts days and weeks of riding the New York subways, thinking, reflecting, over-thinking, obsessing, about whether to leave or not, and how to live in a world gone mad with war. …

There is plenty to worry about in the escalating government attacks in Portland and other cities. Certainly it portends a new level in the escalating Trump drive towards fascism. Who would not be alarmed at those weapons, those drones, those kidnappings? It’s no joke.

The situation is not good. No revolutionary welcomes the arrival of fascism as some kind of trigger leading to “the revolution.” No, we don’t want that. But we can’t be surprised by the escalating violence of the state. It simply means that they are losing. …

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[I can only post this under one name but this is actually by Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga <bmhernandezarriaga@usfca.edu>, Dr. Amy Argenal <aargenal@usfca.edu>, and Dr. Rick Ayers <rjayers@usfca.edu>, University of San Francisco.]

On the morning of Good Friday, photos started coming in to the WhatsApp chats of our team, Bay Area Border Relief (BABR), showing an unknown female’s body floating at the edge of the Rio Grande at the Matamoros Border. There was little information about her story until calls came in later that day. “I just spoke to her the other day,” refugee leader Miguel said. “She was desperate, alone, tired and in anguish, she wanted to find a way to have a life. It was the last time I saw her until today when she is dead.” …

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[I can only post this under one name but this is actually by Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga <bmhernandezarriaga@usfca.edu>, Dr. Amy Argenal <aargenal@usfca.edu>, and Dr. Rick Ayers <rjayers@usfca.edu>, University of San Francisco.]

Fue un adios una despedida in the dark…. Saying goodbye to walk the bridge.

The calls began coming in to us at Bay Area Border Relief (BABR) Wednesday night. Four children from Camp One had been forced to walk alone on the long bridge over the Rio Grande to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents. Step by step, young children leaving their parents to be unaccompanied minors in the United States so they can survive. The cries of the parents are beyond desperate, they are anguished, inconsolable and completely heartbroken to have to say goodbye and watch their children take the steps that may force them apart for years, maybe even forever. …

An Appeal to Humanity — Close the Camps

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[I can only post this under one name but this is actually by Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga <bmhernandezarriaga@usfca.edu>, Dr. Amy Argenal <aargenal@usfca.edu>, and Dr. Rick Ayers <rjayers@usfca.edu>, University of San Francisco.]

One child

Marisita is eight years old, wears t-shirts that say things like “Make my Day” and “Too Cute.” She is obsessed with birds and often does her best to draw pictures of them. Generally shy, she has recently pushed herself to make friends and has actually become a leader of her posse of girls. They invent games, often ones that involve movement and rhythm, such as leapfrog and a hand slapping song. She has recently had a growth spurt so her pants are all a bit short at her ankles. When in school, she focuses closely on the teacher’s words and works hard on the assignments. …

What is Coronavirus Saying to Us?

Amid all the hubbub about coronavirus, ventilators, stimulus packages, distance learning, and the crisis in prisons and concentration camps, are there a few lessons we can discern about this tectonic shift? What has the pandemic done to shake up our common-sense assumptions? What is coronavirus trying to tell us?

Through my own confusion, denial, and self-medicating, certain perspectives have clawed their way into my consciousness. Here are a few of them:

1) The end of white American exceptionalism. Generally, people of privilege, people whose existence is held up by centuries of colonial theft, live in a bubble. Bad things happen out there, to others. There are wars, famines, diseases, refugees — but these are stories on TV and the TV can be turned off. …

I’ve been collecting the delicious and irreverent explosion of commentary over the literary dust-up of the season that accompanied the release of Jeanine Cummins’ much-ballyhooed novel, American Dirt. This author got a seven-figure advance for her contribution to the growing body of border books — essays, novels, poetry, etc. Cummins assured us that she wanted to “humanize” the story, put a face on the immigrant. In a clueless and patronizing gesture, she assumed that for most people the refugees have no face. She promised a story that would not be “political” — is that even possible in a cookie recipe? …

The revolution comes from below. And at the bottom, the people scorned and kicked aside — invisible discarded, the wretched of the earth — are the unhoused in our society, an ever-growing group made up of the most oppressed. As our cities gentrify ­– for example, the Black population of Oakland has shrunk from 47% to 25% — the unhoused, those booted out of homes and no longer counted in the population totals, is 70% Black.

On November 18th, a group of Black mothers, Tolani King, Dominique Walker, Misty Cross and others, committed a radical act of civil disobedience — they moved themselves and their children into an empty house on Magnolia Street in West Oakland. The house was owned by a real estate corporation called Wedgewood which buys “distressed” properties (usually ones where Black owners have been forced out) at a discount, hundreds every month, and then flips them for inflated prices to richer buyers. Speculators getting rich off the pain of others. The property the mothers occupied had been empty for two years. And then the statistic that must give you pause: there are many times as many such empty houses as there are unhoused people in Oakland. Here lies the very core of capitalist logic: everything, not just shoes and cars but even health care, housing and education, even air and water, can be commodified (turned into something to buy and sell) in Oakland. …

So the impeachment hearings are going on and more sewerage is being dredged up every day. No surprise. You could scratch the Trump fortress anywhere and release the stench.

I don’t know much about Russia and the Ukraine, but simply by paying attention to recent history, I believe there is a more coherent explanation of this mess than we get on the daily news cycle. Here’s a kind of primer, my review of the interests, and certainly there is room for more nuance. But this is some context that have sort of faded from our consciousness.

It might be helpful, for perspective, to look into the politics going on in the Russia-Ukraine region. Some people wonder why all the fuss about Ukraine — what a random spot to provoke a crisis in US politics. It is not so random. …

As the impeachment process lumbers forward, we are all caught up on the latest actors, getting their fifteen minutes of infamy on the pathetic stage of government corruption. New household names become Taylor, Sondland, Yovanovitch, and Kent. May the crooks they expose get a well-deserved fifteen years.

Here’s what bothers me though. Needling the Ukrainian president for dirt on Biden? That’s the crime? That’s what should take Trump out of office? OK, I get it. Al Capone went down for tax evasion. But come on! We are not impeaching him for putting more than 2,500 children in concentration camps? …


Rick Ayers

Rick Ayers is an associate professor of education at the University of San Francisco.

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