Militant Movie Making: “Salt of the Earth”

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“Watching a film should feel like you just tore a hole out of the air and the void caught fire.” (Josh Fox)

Name the best-known early 1950s motion picture with a union theme? Easy. That would be On the Waterfront. But Waterfront was not the early 1950s motion picture with a union theme that Noam Chomsky called, “one of the greatest films ever made…couldn’t get it out of my mind for weeks.”

Nope, that early 1950s motion picture with a union theme would be the criminally neglected but crucially essential 1953 film, Salt of the Earth.

Made by a group of McCarthy-era, blacklisted filmmakers, Salt of the Earth tells the story of New Mexico zinc miners—and their families—struggling against their bosses for a better life. The film is based on the real-life struggle of MMSW Local 890, which went on strike against the Empire Zinc Corporation in 1950.

“Shortly after the strike had begun, an injunction prohibited men from walking the picket lines,” writes Tony Pecinovsky. “Women soon replaced their brothers, sons, husbands, and fathers—an action of major significance, especially since corporate America had little tolerance for people of color, especially women of color, standing up for their rights.”

Narrated by a character appropriately named Esperanza, the wife of a striking miner, Salt of the Earth features a cast made up almost entirely of those who actually participated in the strike and was a feminist movie before such a thing had a name.

Equally as impressive is the manner in which revolutionary film was completed against all odds. Production began on January 20, 1953 and the Hollywood Reporter soon announced: “H’wood Reds are shooting a feature-length anti-American racial issue propaganda movie.”

The outcry carried all the way to Congress where Donald Jackson, a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), promised: “I shall do everything in my power to prevent the showing of a communist-made film in the theaters of America.”

Rosaura Revueltas, the woman who played Esperanza, was deported to Mexico during production on a trumped-up immigration charge (her passport hadn’t been stamped upon entering the U.S.).

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“The film’s director, Herbert Biberman, spent six months in jail for refusing to testify before HUAC,” adds Pecinovsky. “Several key personnel on the film were found in contempt of Congress when they refused HUAC’s badgering as well. The film crew was barred from laboratories, sound studios, and other facilities normally used by filmmakers. No Hollywood labs would process the film and the projectionist’s union refused to show it.”

Salt of the Earth made its theatrical debut in March 1954 and won the International Grand Prize from the Academie du Cinema de Paris in 1955. Like the characters in the film and the real-life workers those characters were based on, the filmmakers had emerged triumphant in what Pecinovsky calls a story “about racism, sexism, chauvinism, red-baiting, union busting, censorship and courage; the courage of ordinary people, workers and filmmakers, standing together in solidarity.”

Deborah Rosenfelt, author of a book about the film, has written: “The continuing significance of Salt of the Earth for our own time arises from its attempt—rare in works of art in any medium—to integrate the struggles of women, of an ethnic minority, and workers … Salt of the Earth…inspires belief in the possibility of genuine social change. It encourages us to act on that belief. Seeing it has made a difference in more than one life; my own was one of them.”

Please allow me to suggest:

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

The Only “Single Issue” is Collective Liberation

“I think that in terms of emotion, our culture allows men to be angry. The animal rights movement gives men a legitimate reason to be angry. … [it] should not be the place to give men more reasons to be angry. That is not what we need in the world.” (Carol Adams)

Warning: This just may be my Dylan Goes Electric moment.

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I’ve been vegan since 1995 and an animal liberation activist—in one form or another—for just as long. It’s been gratifying to see awareness increase and our ranks grow but even so, the vegan/animal rights (AR) crowd is typically relegated to the fringes of the activist world. This understandably leads to an “us against them” vibe as vegans often seek solace and approval in each other’s company.

As much as anyone, I’ve appreciated this insular sense of shared purpose. So much so that I’ve possibly slowed my own activist evolution by becoming too complacent within the movement. One thing is certain: I’ve definitely missed some ominous warning signs.

Thus, in the name of personal honesty and collective liberation, it’s time to be more true to my holistic vision. It’s time to evolve… 

Single White Male Seeks Followers

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The popular white male vegan guru, Gary Francione, has convinced a wide range of his minions that single issue campaigns = bad, very bad. Here’s a sample of how he explains why such campaigns are perfectly fine for human issues but not so for animal issues:

“We all recognize that the suffering of innocent humans is a bad thing wherever it occurs. The fact that we choose to help in Haiti does not mean that we think that the suffering of humans in, say, Darfur, is good or that those in Darfur matter less. Similarly, the fact that we choose to work on issues of child abuse does not mean that we think rape is acceptable or is morally less objectionable. In sum, if X, Y, and Z are all viewed as morally undesirable, the choice to work on X does not convey the message that Y and Z are morally acceptable.

“When it comes to animals, the analysis is different. Most people think that eating meat, dairy, and all other animal products, or wearing or using animal products, is as natural as drinking water or breathing air. So when we single out one form of animal exploitation, we necessarily distinguish it for moral purposes.”

To buy Francione’s logic, one has to first accept a premise so patently false as to be laughable: that “we all recognize” all forms of human suffering— “wherever it occurs”—as “morally undesirable.” In addition, does he (or anyone) actually believe that the average human would perceive, say, an anti-fur protest as a statement on the relative morality of eating meat?

Francione’s disdain for single-issueism is obviously both counterproductive and self-serving but, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to critique about this activist approach.

Regardless of purpose, what we call “single issue campaigns”—by definition—fragment movements by separating concerns from their larger context and thus potentially reduce opportunities for essential coalition building across the activist spectrum. They also legitimize power by having us beg representatives of an abusive system for minor reforms. 

Even so, this doesn’t mean we should totally abandon single-issueism.”Every campaign for animals provides an opportunity to promote the vegan message and the goal of animal liberation,” writes long time AR activist, Karen Davis. 

As always, diversity of tactics rules in a culture that limits debate while crushing dissent with ease and impunity. The long-term vision of activism cannot be based on single-issueism, but a few victories here and there would sure be helpful for morale and momentum.

Sadly and ironically, AR activism—even the Francione branch—epitomizes single-issueism as the vast majority of the movement is white, middle class, and virtually agnostic when it comes to challenging human-to-human forms of oppression.

Such narrow-mindedness is typically cultivated in an inherently top-down hierarchy with men like Francione ruling by decree. Sadly, he’s far from the only one.

The Joke’s on Us

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In late 2013, another white male vegan celebrity, Gary Yourofsky, declared: “I care about animals, who are the only oppressed, enslaved, and tormented beings on this planet. Human suffering is a joke.” 

(There goes Francione’s premise that “we all recognize” all forms of human suffering— “wherever it occurs”—as “morally undesirable.”)

Here are a couple more pearls of compassionate wisdom from Yourofsky, the architect of “the best speech you will ever hear”:

“Rapists, murderers and child molesters should be vivisected, executed, and dissected, allowing researchers the opportunity to gather useful information that would actually benefit human health for a change.”

“Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.”

Hence, I must ask my vegan/AR comrades: 

  • What does it say about the movement when this guy is a revered and sought-after global animal rights superstar? 
  • Do you feel he “represents” you in any way? 
  • Do you agree on any of the points I posted above?
  • Would you be willing to publicly denounce such stances?

Side note: Yourofsky was a paid employee of PETA for several years.

Oceans of Denial

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Yet another major white male vegan icon is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The famously brusque Watson is apparently not shy about embracing racist stereotypes in the misguided belief it’ll help save marine mammals. 

“The brutal killing of whales has become an icon for the Japanese identity,” Watson declares. “This is not unusual. Japan has always closely identified with blood and slaughter. From the decapitations by the Samurai upon innocent peasants to the suicidal insanity of the Kamikaze, violence and self destruction have been a part of Japanese culture.”

Yeah, those darn Japanese are so enamored with “blood and slaughter,” they nearly exterminated an entire continent of humans, enslaved another continent’s worth of humans, and the “greatest generation” of them went on to slaughter 672,000 humans via coordinated firebombing before willfully targeting “innocent peasants” with atomic weapons. 

Wait…oops, my bad. That wasn’t “part of Japanese culture;” it was god’s country—you know, the Home of the Brave™…and the victims in the last two examples were (wait for it) Japanese.

Watson’s anti-Japan rant is not an isolated case of racism from him and he has been called out for such sentiments. His response is classic mansplaining

I … don’t believe that racism is relative to the ecocentric world. There is only one race that I recognize and that is the human race and racism is a form of behavior caused by abstract and nonsensical prejudices among members of the same species. No intelligent person can be a racist because it makes no ecological or biological sense. I have found it interesting that when I maintain that all humans are equal and all members of one species that some find this statement racist because I refuse to see any distinctions between people based on skin color or features.”

How cliché: A famous white man finds it “interesting” to be called on his racism yet still refuses to see “any distinctions between people based on skin color or features.” (Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Sea Shepherd named one its ships after convicted racist, Bridgette Bardot.)

Through it all, however, Watson is revered like a vegan rock star. 

And speaking of vegan rock stars, there’s John Joseph—vegan icon and lead singer of the infamous Cro-Mags. When Joseph decided he wanted to share his tough guy approach to veganism, he wrote a book named (wait for it) Meat is for Pussies.

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Just in case you don’t have a problem with Joseph’s book title choice or feel the urge to “explain” why he’s justified in using it, please allow me to introduce a simple thought experiment:

How would you feel about a pro-vegan book called Meat is for N*ggers or Meat is for F*gs or Meat is for R*tards or Meat is for Tr*nnies?

Need I go on? I certainly hope not.

“There is nothing hardcore about reclaiming traditional patriarchal language and behavior in the name of an ethical movement,” explains Jamie J. Hagen. “And remember: If you aren’t sure how to do better, please ask a vegan feminist. We would love to help!”

Evolve or Perish

Individuals like those mentioned above have more in common than their skill at exploiting both vegan exceptionalism and white male privilege. They’re also the embodiment of single-issueism and have subsequently helped shape a movement often as myopic, marginal, and misanthropic.

In person, on social media, everywhere…I witness AR activists hating on humans, calling for population control (or even human extinction), and never crossing over into human rights activism. I even encounter AR activists literally mocking those who engage in actions against human oppression (again, contrary to Francione’s flawed premise).

Such behavior virtually guarantees that AR will never be taken seriously nor will it reach beyond its current homogenous and negligible demographic. If you’d like to win over a few more humans to any given cause, it usually helps to demonstrate to them that you care—even a tiny bit—about the issues that impact them. (FYI: That means more than declaring you don’t see skin color or gender because “we are all one.”)

Let’s ask ourselves: Why would any oppressed person feel welcome within our movement? Why would any woman feel safe around activists who think this approach from PETA is acceptable or perhaps even “clever”?

Let’s remind ourselves: Without such growth and diversity, we are doomed, the animals are doomed, the ecosystem is doomed.

So, how about we start exhibiting some of that compassion we never stop talking about? How about we stop allowing the dominant paradigms of privilege to define us—even in the realm of dissent? It’s high time we reject smug complacency and instead seek out new challenges in the name of revolutionary progress.

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Angela Davis—a high-profile vegan who most definitely breaks the patriarchal mode—has said that being a vegan is “part of a revolutionary perspective—how we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet.”

This is the kind of message vegans should be conveying and representing: inclusive, holistic, accessible, uncompromisingly revolutionary, and not dripping with privilege.

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Israel/Palestine: Some of what the media ignores

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Obviously, there’s a wide range of opinions (and variations on each of those opinions) when it comes to anything related to Israel and Palestine (in particular, Hamas) but to cultivate a truly nuanced perspective requires a lot more evidence and context than we’ll ever get from the corporate media.

It doesn’t make me a supporter of Hamas if I point out how imbalanced the media coverage is and has been. It doesn’t make me a hater of Israel when I remind you of what’s not being said.

So, in the interest of provoking a more informed discussion, I’d like to share some of the crucial but neglected facts. Simply put, I feel it’s impossible to have a useful debate on the conflicts if you haven’t factored in the following realities:

*Like all occupied people, Palestinians have the right – under international law – to armed resistance.

*Even when Israel isn’t bombing them, “Gaza’s population continue to face devastating results of the blockade imposed by the Government of Israel. Gazans are deeply suffering with an unemployment rate of 38.5% as of the last quarter of 2013, which is an increase of over 10 percentage points compared to six months earlier, causing widespread poverty. At least 57% of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80% are now aid recipients.”

*Since its creation, Israel has regularly violated international law and ignored dozens of United Nations resolutions, for example: UN Resolution 242 (Nov. 22, 1967) which emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and that member states have a commitment to abide by the U.N. Charter, and calls for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied” during the June 1967 war.

*Three billion U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the Israeli military each year – $8.5 million per day – with the requirement that 74% of that money be used to buy weapons and equipment from U.S. defense corporations. The U.S. provides no military aid to Hamas or Palestine.

*When the U.S. needed a proxy to do so, Israel has supported and armed neo-Nazi governments in Central America, even when this meant working with a company run by unrepentant Nazi, Klaus Barbie (a.k.a. “The Butcher of Lyon”).

*Since 2000, for every Israeli child killed, 12.3 Palestinian children have been killed by weapons purchased from U.S. defense corporations, using U.S. taxpayer money. Before you write this off with excuses about “human shields” or “collateral damage,” please consider this January 1, 1948 diary entry from Israeli Founding Father and its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, concerning the so-called Arab problem: “What is necessary is cruel and strong reactions. We need precision in time, place, and casualties. If we know the family, we must strike mercilessly, women and children included. Otherwise, the reaction is inefficient. At the place of action, there is no need to distinguish between guilty and innocent.”

*Lastly, there’s this: Israel helped create Hamas. No, seriously, Israel helped create Hamas to destabilize the PLO. Really…even the Wall Street Journal publicly admits that Israel helped create Hamas. (FYI: Hamas was democratically elected in the Palestinian legislative election of 2006.)

I’d understand, of course, if someone described this post as “anti-Israel,” so let me clarify: I’m not praising or supporting Hamas. I’m also not singling out Israel as unique in its behavior. Rather, I’m clarifying that Israel’s government is as Machiavellian as every other government.

No state (or corporation) is guided by a “moral code” and it’s dangerous to believe so. Accepting this ugly truth is a powerful step towards better comprehending – and challenging – geo-political realities.

The information presented above may or may not change your perception of this long-standing conflict but I like to hope it’ll inspire some deeper analysis and a more useful response than: “Israel has the right to self-defense.”

#shifthappens

Truth, Justice, and a Good Left Hook

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“You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes, your preparation.” (Smokin’ Joe Frazier, owner of one of the greatest left hooks of all time)

Often, the only way to know if a battle can still be won is to keep on fighting. Sometimes, when all seems lost, all it takes is one punch to turn the tide.

A left hook, perhaps?

I first learned the power of the left hook at City Star Kickboxing Gym. I trained there—well before cable TV and the interwebs turned martial arts into a spectacle—with some contenders and some champions…but like everyone else, I had to prove myself in the ring.

Early on, I got matched with a guy named Phil. He was well liked, a little bigger than me, but I didn’t think much of him as a fighter. Insulted to be regarded in his class, I circled Phil deftly and waited for him to make a move. Once he committed, I evaded the strike and took advantage of the subsequent opening…putting him down with a short, sharp left hook that bloodied his nose. A good moment, in that macho, 20-year-old sort of way.

Power from the Left

Contrary to popular opinion, cinematic fisticuffs, and fighters with poor fundamentals, the hook is not a wide, looping punch that originates somewhere in left field and leaves the puncher exposed. They call it a “hook” precisely because your arm position should resemble a hook: a 90-degree angle at the elbow with your palm facing down at the point of impact.

Some Basics:

  • Tuck your chin down into your left shoulder
  • Pivot your hips, waist, and front left foot in the direction of the punch. Torque your whole left side but especially: twist your lead left foot like you were putting out a cigarette. This will generate power without expending too much energy or movement.
  • The hook can be thrown as part of a combination (e.g. jab-cross-hook or jab-hook) or as a single punch to catch an opponent who is on the attack
  • Mix up your targets: Hook to the head, the body, or double up

When using a left hand leading stance, your left hook is essentially thrown outside of your opponent’s vision. It’s an economical strike that, when executed properly, has the full force of your body weight behind it and is awfully tough to see coming—a knockout blow that can stop a charging opponent in his or her tracks and change the momentum of any battle.

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

SUPER EASY VEGAN RECIPE!!!!!

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Hello my fellow vegans! I know there’s nothing you guys love more than sharing delicious and trendy recipes featuring exotic and expensive ingredients that can be shared at your next exclusive food-tasting event. So, I thought I’d prove my worth to this crucial cause by providing a recipe for a little something I like to call: 

Single-Issue Surprise

You’ll need:

  • A small group of non-poor vegan/animal rights activists
  • Decades of unacknowledged privilege
  • The mere suggestion of intersectionality

Helpful hint: You don’t have to mix the privilege into the activist group (it’s already deeply embedded).

Simple instructions: Ask the activists if they’ve connected their struggle against speciesism to other anti-oppression struggles.

Cooking time: 2.7 seconds.

Warning: This recipe almost always tastes incredibly bitter (and don’t expect to be invited for dessert).

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#EvolveOrPerish #shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

Why do I hate America?

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“Why do you hate America?” 

This is a remarkably easy question to provoke. One might, for instance, expose elements of this nation’s brutal foreign policy. Ask a single probing question about, say, U.S. complicity in the overthrow of governments in Guatemala, Iran, or Chile and thin-skinned patriots will come out of the woodwork to defend their country’s honor by accusing you of being “anti-American.” 

Of course, this allegation might lead me to ponder how totalitarian a culture must be to even entertain such a concept, but I’d rather employ the vaunted Arundhati Roy Defense™. 

As Ms. Roy asks: “What does the term ‘anti-American’ mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz or that you’re opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias?”

When pressed about my “hate” for “my” country, I sometimes reply: “I don’t hate America. In fact, I think it’s one of the best countries anyone ever stole.” 

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One-liners aside, I do have a confession to make: If by “America” you mean the elected/appointed officials, the corporations that fund/own them, and the synchronized behavior of both, well, I do hate that America—with passion and plenty of justification. 

For starters, I hate America for the near-extermination and ongoing oppression of this continent’s indigenous population. I hate it for its role in the African slave trade and for openly targeting civilians with atomic bombs. 

I could go on for pages with such examples but instead, I’ll sum up like this: I hate America for being a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal ableist sexist racist ageist homophobic transphobic classist speciesist hypocrisy. 

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After a declaration like that, you know what comes next: If you hate America so much, why don’t you leave? 

Leave America? That would potentially put me on the other end of U.S. foreign policy. No thanks.

I kinda like how Paul Robeson answered a very similar question before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956: “My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people like you will drive me from it. Is that clear?” 

However, since none of my people died to build anything, I could instead borrow from historian William Blum, who proclaims, “I’m committed to fighting U.S. foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it.”

Needless to say, none of the above does a thing to placate the yellow ribbon crowd—you know, the folks who tell you they’re proud to be an American… as if they had anything to do with it.

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What offends these flag-wavers most is when someone like me makes use of the freedom they claim to adore. 

According to their twisted logic, I am ungrateful for my liberty if I have the audacity to exercise it. For example: If I make the choice to not salute the flag, somehow I’m not worthy of having the freedom to make the choice to not salute the flag. 

These so-called patriots not only claim to celebrate freedom while refusing my right to enjoy it, they also conveniently ignore the social movements that fought for and won and such freedoms.

I certainly hate their America.

Take-home message: Having the courage to admit what we hate is often the first step towards creating something we can love.

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)

The Dragons of Distraction (An Activist Parable)

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Prologue: “The function of the police is social control and protection of property.” (Michael Parenti)

Once upon a time, there was a very evil class of humans that lived in a massive luxury castle on a hill surrounded by fields of (GM) crops. These humans regularly kidnapped, tortured, and murdered those who lived beyond the castle gates—gates diligently guarded by ever-evolving legions of fire-breathing dragons.

The humans outside wanted so badly to rescue their doomed comrades but never seemed to agree on how to proceed. More often than not, they spent more time placing blame on and attacking those non-castle humans lower on the social totem pole.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Every so often, a group of non-castle humans (with the means to do so) would stand outside the castle to express their supreme outrage. Inevitably, the dragons would appear and chase them away. 

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted. 

The non-castle humans spent hour upon hour fixated upon conjuring up ways to outsmart the dreaded dragons. Some began to hate the dragons and created unique chants and signs to give voice to this hatred.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

The dragon-haters would occasionally grow in number and this subtle show of strength and solidarity usually provoked the dragons to greater and more brutal violence.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Some folks, of course, sympathized with the poor, misunderstood dragons and felt they could be reasoned with, even “converted.” Other folks were obsessed with tricking and humiliating the often dim-witted dragons. Still others felt it was a noble act to stand their ground and willingly allow the dragons to scorch them with their fiery breath.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

One day, a dragon breathed so heavily on such a protestor that he was burned to death. This incident led to far more non-castle dwellers than ever to join those massed outside the gates. Some even dared to sleep there (but only in the spaces designated by the dragons, of course).

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Meetings were held, petitions were signed, candles were burned, and angry promises were made. More dragons appeared outside the castle.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

Finally, the humans inside the castle announced from high that they’d reprimand the dragon in question and talked openly of perhaps removing the beast from its post. Oh, how the angry masses cheered and sang as they danced their victory dances.

Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

All along, the vast majority of non-castle people dutifully paid their castles taxes and some (claiming poverty) even went to work as “procurers” for the castle. The castle ruler would be changed from time to time and these transitions were deemed valuable to the outsiders since they were allowed a chance to help choose their new overseer.

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Meanwhile, the kidnappings, torture, and murders proceeded…uninterrupted.

As time went by, however, the number of humans outside the castle gates dwindled and dwindled—until there was but two of them left. Not even the dragons were around much anymore and when they were, these once-feared demons appeared to be weak and starving.

First non-castle human: “We finally won! We’re holding our ground and those damn dragons are losing strength!”

Second non-castle human: “I don’t know. Do you think it’s actually possible we’re the only two left—”

Before she could finish her question, black hoods had been slipped over both of their heads and off they went as the dragons scuffled amongst themselves for a few remaining scraps of food.

The End

Postscript: “Know your enemy.” (Zach de la Rocha)

#shifthappens

(Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism can be ordered here.)