So many things threw me off this last week as the news of the death of Brad Will in Oaxaca started flooding the media scape I live in.
I knew Brad. He wasnt a very close friend of mine. I knew him incidentally, the way I know so many other indymedia folks, a protest, a meeting, a couch to sleep on. emails and posts on various indymedia projects. Our paths crossed in a few intersections and I appreciated his stories of years of struggle, inspiring track of resistance, usually accompanied by nights of drinking and playing guitar. The kind of stories that included death defying survival acts that left you with awe and made you appreciate the fleeting present moment knowing fully well the price of living on the edge.
It is hard to talk about what this kind of event makes you feel when there are so many different factions trying to pull this tragic story in their direction. Suddenly this person is a symbol, died in the line of duty, elevated to the role of a martyr. And with that pulling and manipulating of his image, come the expectations, political and otherwise, to choose sides, to act, to resist. Just like Brad would have… thats what he would have wanted.
I dont intend to use this space to launch yet another emotionaly manipulative monolouge with a political undertone. I claim no ownership over his memory, I try to keep things seperated as much as possible, I see a lot of emotionally motivated actions around, and I dont think there is a need for more. However I would like to explore some of those less personal aspects that this incident points to. Things about this ‘movement’ and the reaction to the news – the first (some say second) indymedia journalist killed in the line of duty. Isnt that something worth thinking about?
First thing that popped at me was a narco news correspondent on the chiapas indymedia site quoting their communication with Brad about sharing contacts in Oaxaca, explaning to him the danger on the ground and the distrust for foreigners at this delicate time, urging him to think twice about going. Brad replies simply that he is going eitherway, he has other contacts and he would respectfully not mention narco news. As I said, like so many others in the indymedia network, he wasnt the type to shy away from conflict and danger. And not surprisingly, as soon as the shit hit the fan, even more so after Brad’s death, there is a slew of american indymedias ready to go down and report from the front lines. It seems useless to point out this exchange to them, these are the moments they live for, on the front lines. Where brad left off, they will pick up.
This is not a very different approach from the mainstream news, that runs around the globe looking for bloody scenes. And of course the corporate news, specifically in the north, had their fun with this story for a few seconds. They bit on the angle of a white american journalist killed in hostile foreign streets, streets which were otherwise very easy to ignore.
There were however 4 others who died in the various onsloughts on the barricades that Friday, and their faces and names are not flaunted on protest signs and grieving articles online. As a matter of fact it is hard even now to even find out their names among the hundreds of posts about Brad Wills death. These are locals who were there protecting their neighborhood, they didnt choose to come thousands of miles to be there, it happened in their back yard, they were there before he came, and their families will remain to deal with the situation after the excitement in the news subsides.
The issue of race is very delicate in these matters. Both in the mainstream media, but also in the indymedia and activist circles. People on the radical left like to think of themselves as beyond these issues, and it is impossible to unravel here. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of people standing ready to benefit from tying Brad’s death to their cause. I see no reason to argue about anyones particular legitimacy in using his image and name. Aside from remembering that he himself had little to do in his life with many of these forces, and is no longer here to comment, I can only pay him the deep respect of silence.
Also interesting, is that mainstream news has advanced indymedia to the status of real journalism. Apparently the recent explosion of blog culture has contributed to the legitimacy of the indpendent reporter and pulled indymedia out of the ‘activist’ basket and up to par with major networks. At least in this case it did, and that is significant.
This calls into light the definition of indymedia, which I will not repeat here, but in essense describes a loose non-hierarchal network of individuals and collectives, who dont speak with one voice, who dont share one view. We are not a family or even necessarily friends, though we try to help and support eachothers work as much as possible. But we do not represent eachother, or are represented by the network, and we often are part of, embedded in, if you will excuse the term, the communities we document / inform.
As indymedia breaks out of it’s fringe box and enters the mainstream spectrum, we are bound to lose some of the more radical qualities that out of the phenomenon that started 7 years ago, made it the amazing network that it is today. It would be impossible to maintain the integrity of the network, if there ever was one, under the intense scrutiny of so many social forces. It would be a miracle if we can remain in existence and independent and most imortantly, effective, that is as a whole, as a network, but also as individuals, as human beings.