Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

December 23rd, 2010 10:55 AM

Dennis Brutus: A Small Tribute to a Giant Man

This week we depart from Haiti to visit the native son of another country with a deep history of oppression and resistance: South Africa. The luminary Dennis Brutus - freedom fighter, economic and environmental justice activist, professor, and poet - died last year on December 26. We republish this eulogy because of the transcendent lessons Dennis’ life offers to Haiti, the U.S., and all places where people seek greater justice and humaneness.

How does one pay tribute to Dennis Brutus? To do so appropriately would take a short book or a very long poem. Someone should attempt the feat, both because Dennis deserves it and because it would help spread the power of his life, work, and words. And spread is what Dennis’ life, work, and words must continue to do, for in them lie the essentials for a more just, nurturing, equitable, and environmentally sustainable world.

The Dalai Lama is reported to have said, “Let your life be your message.” Dennis’ was, in the humility with which he carried himself, the kindness with which he treated others, and the wisdom and clarity of those words. His message, and his life, lay also in the strength of his convictions and the energy with which he worked for them, whether the cause be liberation from oppressive regimes; reparations to victims of Apartheid from corporations that made profits off the system; the dissolution of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization; or control over corporations creating climate change.

I met Dennis in the early 80’s when we were both fighting the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, during which time he was also fighting for his own political asylum from South Africa. Our collaboration deepened in the 90’s through the global boycott of the World Bank, and through our joint engagement with the Center for Economic Justice. Though reaching the Center’s board meetings in the remote city of Albuquerque required many hours of travel, and though he often had meetings or presentations in other countries on the front and back ends, and though his participation was often for no more than a day, still he came, for Dennis was faithful to whatever he committed to. The same was true of the World Bank boycott: Dennis appeared for most any workshop, presentation, or meeting we requested, raising high the flag with all his strength and brilliance.

He lobbied us all to involve ourselves, to turn out, to unite our voice and strength, to do more than we were already doing. The man was tireless and fearless, and gently urged us to be, too.

He always showed up with his most pressing passions and politically urgent campaigns. I recall running a workshop on strategies to challenge the World Bank’s power in a church in Washington during a week of protests. Making a cameo appearance, Dennis asked for the floor and proceeded to make a long appeal for everyone to join him at another gathering on another topic in another country, many months out. As he went on about that gathering, a woman hissed at me that the speaker was off-message and that I should cut him off. I was polite while denying her request, but what I really wanted to say was, “Do you have any idea who is speaking? You should just feel honored. Listen very carefully to what he has to say.”

The schedule he kept was remarkable for anyone of any age or state of health, but I never heard him complain or make excuses. On he plugged even after he had surpassed 80, when his health had diminished, when his itinerary exhausted him, when his memory had wandered. I ran into him at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in one of his final years when he was clearly weary of body and mind. After sharing a big hug, he said, “I must go now because I have a meeting. I can’t remember with whom, or where it is, but I know I have one.” And off he went through the throngs, tenacity and a fierce commitment to obligation trumping all personal challenges.

When we were lucky, Dennis had the time and inclination for a story. The narrative was always marked by his beautiful verbiage, exquisite oration, enlivened eyes, and - if a good story - delight, or - if one of injustice - calm. My favorite stories were of his and his comrades’ fierce fights against Apartheid. So much courage and creativity they bespoke. He found humor in unexpected places, and always understated his own suffering.

There was the tale of attempting to flee guards as he was being transported from one prison to another, jumping out of the police car at a red light and setting off in a dash. “That was when I learned what a through-and-through wound was,” he said of the bullet which pierced his chest and went out his back. He told of lying on the ground bleeding, “in the shadow of the Anglo American Corporation, appropriately enough,” waiting for the ambulance. When a whites-only ambulance arrived by mistake, he was not allowed in it and had to lie on the verge of death for another long period awaiting a second ambulance, this one for so-called coloreds.

He told of his comrades’ breaking into the hospital to free him after the shooting, as he barely survived on life support, and of his stealthily writing on his hand, “Abort mission,” sure that he would die in the attempted rescue. He told of being under house arrest with guards parked in front of his home around the clock, while he climbed out the side window to attend political meetings.

During one of his narrations in my living room, I noticed that the self-deprecating chortle that usually punctuated his stories had vanished. Dennis was quietly crying. A tear ran down his nose and hung at the tip, where it remained throughout the rest of his tale of horror and brutality. Like Dennis’ life, the sadness and frustration behind that tear never stopped his truth-telling.

Poems were easy to get from him, whether he read them during a public presentation or shared them in a calm moment. Whenever Dennis had a new book (he published 13), he carried copies around and freely gave them out, after adding a warm inscription in his exquisite calligraphy. Dennis was perhaps most full in his poems, which merged the personal and the political, which never denied the existence of tyranny but always brought his breath of hope that the world can be different – if we organize to make it so.

It is perhaps easiest to remember Dennis the fighter, but I was always equally impressed with Dennis the human being. No matter how ugly the political fight, Dennis’ anger remained streamlined on the unjust systems and policies, not wasted on the individuals behind them. He kept his eyes on the prize: the principles at play.

The same was true with his approach to social movements. When comrades and allies around him made errors, when internal politics divided, his response always shone like a beacon. He seemed to know better than most that we are all limited and imperfect, and that the benefit of the doubt or the possibility of change is a grace we need for humanity to continue to evolve. Or perhaps it was simpler: perhaps he believed that he was no one’s judge. Or maybe he just knew that the world was harsh enough already, as he expressed in his poem “Somehow We Survive”:

All our land is scarred with terror
rendered unlovely and unlovable
sundered are we and all our passionate surrender
but somehow
tenderness survives.

Dennis wrote his own simple obituary in 2009 as he discussed the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. “I was committed to the struggle and I would if necessary die in the cause of liberation: ‘Freedom or death.’ It was a very simple resolve.”[1] He did indeed die in the cause of liberation, though fortunately not violently or prematurely. Every single thing that Dennis did was in the cause of liberation.

I would say I will miss Dennis, but he's not going anywhere. He’s in all of us who care profoundly for justice, humanity, and the planet.


You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles