Narco News to Civil Society: It’s Up to You, Now
By Al Giordano and Luis Gómez
From a Country Called América
October 18, 2003
A week ago, Narco News announced that today, Saturday, October 18, would be our last date of publication, at least for 2003, and quite possibly forever.
And what a week it was.
Bolivia, where our Andean Bureau has been headquartered for almost two years, exploded in a large part because of that government’s slavish surrender to policies imposed from above. The president of that country fell precisely because Authentic Democracy, increasingly, cannot tolerate the impositions of Washington or Wall Street. And the long hard battle by coca growers against US-imposed drug policies created the momentum and context for the battle that was waged and won yesterday in Bolivia.
The history of the past three-and-a-half years has gone precisely as we predicted in our Opening Statement of April 18, 2000. Bolívar’s dream of a Latin America that unites against outside impositions is already a reality. Almost 900 original reports remain here in the Narco News archives documenting, day by day, that sea change.
The sea change is here. It has arrived. The battle has been redefined from below, and now enters a bold new era.
Many readers and colleagues in journalism have written us in the past week, sad, as we are, sometimes even disappointed and upset, as we sometimes are, that the objective conditions don’t exist to continue publishing Narco News.
A few have even wondered if we are angry with them. A death in the family often leaves those kinds of confusions. Since there may be others thinking, but not asking, we answer publicly and unequivocally: Absolutely not. Our feeling is one of authentic gratitude. (And since it’s obvious that we don’t pretend to like people we don’t like, and we don’t collaborate with people that we don’t trust and respect, there’s a positive corollary that you can count on: It therefore follows that we do trust and respect everyone with whom we do collaborate. In those few cases where we were betrayed over the past three-and-a-half years, we let the individual know, to his face, directly and personally, and cut off all communications. If you haven’t been unceremoniously informed by one of us, expressly, that you’re “out,” well… that means you’re still in.)
Many have asked questions that we can’t answer and still maintain the confidentiality that, as Authentic Journalists, we have always kept with our sources and friends. That trust we’ve built doesn’t end today with this project. As human beings, we will continue to keep our word and promises to our many true friends and allies who stood by us during these years of the birth of the Authentic Journalism renaissance.
A week ago, we published a detailed explanation of the reasons for today’s suspension: It appears here. It answers every question that merits an answer.
Many good people have written us since, insisting that there must be a way to bring back Narco News. Logically, that makes sense. Our reality, however, does not always adhere to linear logic. Power knows how to squash like bugs those that practice its definition of linearity. Powerful forces have long worked, both openly and behind the scenes, to silence us. The most powerful of them has no human face: It’s the market and the tyranny whose name is economy. Perhaps, in the future, we will, against the odds, find the path to start again, just as the people of Bolivia found a path – a crack in the system – to defeat that same powerful enemy this last week.
But, as of today, we do not have the answer. And so we’re going, content that we’ve played our part in the grand hemispheric fight against tyranny. And we go smiling, having seen the people of our América rise up in various regions, and having won a lot of battles that we don’t need to recount to you because you won them with us and surely remember them, too.
Many of the suggestions we’ve received seem to suggest that, to keep providing this service, we should also become full-time fundraisers or “activists.” A typical letter, among many like it we’ve received this week, asks: “Is there nothing – no last minute fundraiser – that could stop you from ending Narco News?”
Here’s the main problem: When one tries to do two tasks at once, neither ends up being done well. We’re Authentic Journalists. That’s what we do. To the extent we try to be “fundraisers” it would fundamentally change, and harm, the quality of the work that we already do well: reporting on the drug war and democracy from our América. Even hinting, as we did last week, that a tip might be nice, is the kind of suggestion that should only be made after the main course has been served, and you’re finishing your desert. Welcome to the last supper. Hope you enjoyed the banquet.
So, here’s the money graph for those of you asking what can be done: Come up with the plan that fits our way of doing things, and obtain our consent to do it (and please don’t be upset if we pass on a well-offered suggestion; only we know what works for us).
It’s super hard to map a victorious plan: The landscape is littered with a thousand projects that started out with worthy goals but that quickly bored the public. To be asking for money with one hand, while trying to report the news with the other, ends up making people tailor their work to those who have money and, sadly, to abandon and to betray the majority that does not. One starts trying to “placate the King by speaking the King’s English.” The story of people who started out strong but lost their edge, and therefore could not WIN, repeats itself in every field. Losing our edge would be a form of defeat that we could never accept.
We were lucky that, for three-and-a-half years, a modest but sufficient amount of resources came to us without our having to grovel for them. And we thank, again, each of you who made that possible. The results we’ve achieved, together, speak for themselves.
It’s true that, demonstrably, Narco News had more readers, and more respect from our colleagues in journalism, and more victories than any other publication on or near our beat during the same historic years. Our “different drummer” way of getting the job done sometimes raises petty jealousies and competition from some lesser lights. Some really missed the point: they thought that Narco News had created a “market” to be filled. Even today, while our corpse is still warm, they flail in a greedy grab to occupy, for a price, what they mistakenly view as an activist market niche. Discretion is the better part of valor, and we’re going to remain silent, for now, regarding opportunists and not-up-for-the-task wannabes: We trust our readers to see through them easily enough. And we don’t have to whack them, anyway. They do a good enough job messing themselves up.
We will state, very clearly and for the record though: The Narco News team, as a group, will continue to maintain alliances with individual Authentic Journalists, with the School of Authentic Journalism and its scholars now headquartered at Salón Chingón, and with genuine grassroots networks and media projects in Latin America. But the Rio Bravo is wider than it looks: there are often cultural expectations North of the Border that conflict with our obligations to the South. Narco News is not part of any “coalition” and does not presently belong to any “organizations” in the United States or any part of the “developed world.” One of the lessons of these three-and-a-half years is that the North has to learn a new way of dealing with the South. Some are inching toward that new respect. It is something that is learned over time and much effort. Those that attain it first will be very glad they did.
Often, too often, other organizations have taken undue credit for our labor, and, worse, have gone out and raised money on those claims. We redressed those grievances privately and we certainly never attacked such orgs on Narco News’ pages. But we do want our readers to understand and to remember: Any English-language media or activist organization that is currently listing us as supporters or coalition members on their web site, promotional, or fundraising, materials, whether by intent or by characteristic ineptness, is misusing our good name for private benefit. Believe it or not, this is being done today despite longstanding specific requests to specific individuals and groups that they stop. We hope this gentle, non-specific, clarification will convince them to cease and desist. If not, we’ll set the record straight at a later date.
“Friends of Narco News”
Now, back to all of you who we do like and respect.
Some readers have asked our permission to form an auxiliary organization to attempt to raise resources to bring Narco News back: there is talk, from more than a few corners of the earth, of forming some kind of “Friends of Narco News.”
We appreciate the sentiment and apparent willingness by some sectors of Civil Society to get this show on the road again. We find those suggestions much more helpful than those that ask, “Why don’t you become fundraisers?” We, of course, are giving careful consideration to these temptations. However, that’s not light work. It would take many hands to do the lifting, and a high level of talent and dedication to do the coordinating. We have not yet seen a suggestion that, if implemented, would not soon place us right back in the situation we’re in today: In the midst of glorious battles but without sufficient resources to protect the safety and livelihood of our Authentic Journalists in the field. As the illegal detention of Narco News Contributing Writer Alex Contreras in Bolivia last week demonstrates, our priority concern with this problem is well founded.
We frankly don’t know what could be done. The more immediate reality, today, for both of us and other members of our team is how we’re going to obtain our next meals and our next rent check. The largest tip that we know of, so far, comes from Philip Hugli, an obviously good man who passed from this life last May 25th, and who has posthumously given his all. We hope that more, like Philip, still walk this earth.
If fortune changes and some member or members of Civil Society come up with a plan that works, or if the gods decree abundance upon us from the skies, and we think there might be a role for Civil Society in facilitating such a mischievous plot, we will advise you via the publisher’s weblog and take it from there. But not much has changed since last week when we announced this suspension: We have no immediate option other than to suspend publication now and immediately seek alternate routes. We do see a lot of support out there, passionate, vibrant, support of a brilliance and heart that others rarely see: but still not enough authentic solidarity and support to do it right.
Our economic problems we now face are nothing that a majority of América’s citizens don’t also live with every day. It’s no surprise to us that it’s the poor that share most generously. The masses still know how to enjoy life, and so do we: It’s through struggle. We’re feeling pretty damn good, especially after this week. One more time, we were able to practice our craft – Authentic Journalism – with dignity and as a team with the quality of people we love to work with most and be part of history. Most importantly, we won… again. As Abbie Hoffman once wrote, “there is no greater high than taking on the power structure, giving your all, and winning.”
We’ve always fought Power with our all, and that’s why we have so often won.
Throughout Bolivia this week, the leaders and participants in the democratic revolution repeatedly told us: “We can do what we are doing because we know that you’re reporting the truth – and only you are limiting the ability of others to lie about us.” That really makes us feel good. We do this for the readers, yes, but also for the people whose struggles we share and report to the world. This week was one that we will never forget. As human beings and as Authentic Journalists, our lives have been enriched by these great days of October 2003.
We thank our many friends for getting us far enough to have participated in these historic events, like others we have lived in the past three-and-a-half years. We’ve been very fortunate to have had Narco News, to have been able to investigate, to analyze, to make accurate predictions of what would occur in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and elsewhere, to recruit and collaborate with the fastest, smartest, most conscientious and talented network of Authentic Journalists we have ever known, and then to have been able to go out into the field and help make the very history we set out to make. We know, as we look around, that nobody else has been able to live what we have lived the way that we have lived it. We consider ourselves very, very lucky. Whatever happens from this point on, we will never forget.
And so, with the glow of victory still enveloping us, we really do get to exit with a bang today.
Thanks again, América.
A personal note from Al:
I want to especially thank everyone who has done the hard work of writing for Narco News: our Contributing Writers and Authentic Journalism Scholars. It makes me proud that you chose to do it here, usually for no money at all, or for a pittance, and you still wrote better than those who get paid a livable wage. They only made a paycheck that is already spent. You made history. To the young journalists who developed your crafts here: Good luck. Gómez and I are still behind you, and we’ll continue to be here for you, via Salón Chingón
. To Feder (“All Hail the Lord High Webmahster!”), who deserves the applause of all human beings everywhere, and to Gómez, you both know how grateful I am. I’m sure we’ll collaborate again soon.
To my friends in Latin America: You changed my life. You made me proud to be a journalist again whereas, when I arrived here seven years ago, I was ashamed of being identified with the profession. You taught me a new way to fight. And I am with you, as Bolívar said, “to the death.” To my friends in my native United States: I know it’s hard for many of you to be there in these pre-authoritarian times. Don’t lose faith. History has splendid ways of surprising us all. I hope to see as many of you as possible in Rowe two weekends from now. If not there, well, like the song goes, “paths that cross… cross again.”
A personal note from Luis:
Photo D.R. 2003 Jeremy Bigwood
I would like to have a grandchild who, on any given morning, comes to visit me with some printouts in hand and asks, “Did you write this?” And from my memories I will tell her that we lifted up a war machine against the troops of the Empire… That it seemed important to us to inform, to give the people the tools to understand the dirty maneuvers that cost too many lives in our América, all because of a poorly titled “War on Drugs.”
“Now you know, my child. We were just a few guys with laptops and an enthusiasm that you could call revolutionary…” And I would begin to remember Al Giordano on that morning that, over breakfast, he invited me to work with him (did he say “work”? Or “fight”?). We were in Cochabamba. And that time we met in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to plan the School of Authentic Journalism. And my voyages to cover events in Brazil, in Ecuador, in Venezuela… And how on many sleepless nights we worked to report the countercoup by the masses in the country of Bolívar… Ah, yes, I would love all that… But even more than that, I would like to continue…
It doesn’t matter, because the struggle, an elder campesino leader once told me, is like a little chain that reaches toward the sky: It will end after my death, but we are going to construct it. Yes, it matters, because it saddens me not to have the chance to discuss strategies and write back to so many people who are writing me today to lament our closing… What will happen? I don’t know. But whatever happens, we’ll see you in the sky… Al, Dan: Thanks. See you in the next battle… Kind readers: See you soon.
A personal note from Dan Feder:
Photo D.R. 2003 Ricardo Sala
I can’t believe it’s been just one year since I began my time with Narco News. An entire chapter in the history books they will one day write about our time has ended, a new one just beginning.
I once had my doubts about this. Before I crossed that border, that river that cuts so many gringos off from the joy and passion and struggle and despair that lies just next door to us, I still had a lot of trouble believing that history was still going anywhere. I grew up among the all that post-Cold War, “end of history” rhetoric that sees big ideas and ambition as things of the past. But the facts on the ground, all around me since I’ve gotten here, just don’t bear that out. The events of the past week alone have been enough to convince just about anyone.
I don’t know what Al, Luis, or I, will be doing another year from now, but I know this: ignoring the history unfolding all around us, being made by those once dismissed as powerless, is going to be even harder. I guess I should be sad that this crazy year of mine is over, that this project, at least as we know it, is ending. I know many of our readers are. But I haven’t been. A year is a long time. And there are so many more ahead of us.
I’m grateful to everyone – to our readers and supporters, to the amazing people who have come through the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in one way or another, and of course, most of all, to Al and Luis – for the opportunity to take a mundane and seemingly boring profession (web programming) and put it to the service of such important tasks. You have also inspired me to continue writing. Thanks to all of you, I’ve been able to publish reports on events in Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and elsewhere that have produced more results than if I had written them for a commercial newspaper. A special thank you to the fellow and sister revolutionary techies out there who have always come through when needed. See you all very, very soon.
Last Session for 2003:
Rowe Conference Center
October 31 to November 2
The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism moves to:
To support the work of Al Giordano:
51 Macdougal Street, Suite 257
New York, NY 10012
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