Million Mile Walker Dispatch: Democracy Under Siege, The June Edition

Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,
The January 6 attempted take over of the US Congress in an attempt to change Presidential results bore to the world the growing deterioration of democratic institutions and traditions here which will be the focus of this month’s Dispatch. I’ll have a few announcements and an update on our documentary film and as always include basic segments such as Culture Watch, My Writing / the Documentary & Book/Movie Reviews . We’ll look to Voice of the Day for inspiration, some comic relief with Just Keep Laughing and we’ll check in with What Others Are Saying. Just click on the poster above for an update of our documentary, “Trouble in the Highlands.”

I’ve transitioned off the board of Partnering for Peace after five years where I was membership chair and introduced a no fee plan to increase the number of Rotarians and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. My Co-Chair, Andy Lenec will take over. Here’s an article from the P4P newsletter.
Our Director, Hal Rifken and I have had uninvited time to rethink our documentary, Trouble In The Highlands, which will explore the underlying causes of the migrant crisis at the US/Mexico border. We’ve expanded our team and refined the Website (see: New team members include Executive Producer Maria Martin an award-winning Latina journalist who reports from Antigua, Guatemala for NPR’s Latino USA, among other media outlets. Consultants Demetrio Cojti and his daughter Avex Cojti are academics from Guatemala’s Kaqchikel region. Professor Cojti has a Ph.D. in Social Communications from Leuben, Belgium, and Avex Cojti works for Cultural Survival, an organization whose aim is to foster a future that respects and honors indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights. You can see our plans to raise $40,000 “seed money” to continue funding with more details on our storyline by clicking on the poster above. Go to our website for those who want to help us continue this project after a year long hiatus due to Covid.
Culture Watch
The recent storming of the US Congress by a rowdy mob with the Confederate flag carried through it hallowed halls was a clear indicator for many around the world that our country’s democratic institutions are in sharpe decline. We’re not the only democracy suffering thought according to the twelfth edition of the Democracy Index which rates the U.S. 25th in the world as a “flawed democracy.” Driven by sharp regressions in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, four out of five categories that make up the global average score have deteriorated. You can download this free report to see why its hit the lowest point since 2006.

Susan Glasser of The New Yorker points out that a country that cannot even agree to investigate an assault on its Capital is in big trouble, indeed.

I heard Daniel Weiner, the Director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform program in an interview who said that the violent attack in the U.S. Capitol was an attack on American democracy. It was the culmination of efforts by President Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the November election, fueled by repeated lies about widespread voter fraud. Had they been successful, these efforts would have disenfranchised millions of Americans, especially targeting Black and brown voters. He went on to say that the existing attempts change voters rights were the worse examples of voter suppression since Jim Crow.

One investigative reporter in the Phoenix area who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, Fernanda Santos provided an overview for The Washington Post on the ongoing sham voter “audit” being promoted by the Arizona GOP despite innumerable court rulings that no “fraud” existed and its only real goal was to delegitimize our democratic process. She asks, “How Cynical is the Republican election recount circus in Arizona Today?

And just a few days ago, an article in the local newspaper summed up the impact of this shame so far. Maricopa County, one of the largest counties is the country, will replace voting equipment fearful that GOP backed election review has compromised security. Not to mention the damage done to the State’s image around the country.

My Writing and Reviews
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My next article, “Crossing Borders, Building Bridges” will be highlighted in the July edition of Revue Magazine.  My latest review is about the most recent book of our documentary’s Executive Producer Maria Martin.  I first became aware of the author at a “Peace Corps Connect” conference in Austin, Texas in 2019 where she was on a panel on “Crossing Borders” with several experts on immigration including the Guatemalan filmmaker, Luis Argueta.
Recently, I heard her program on immigration in Guatemala, which aired on the public radio program “Reveal.”  I contacted her once I learned that she was the head of the “Gracias Vida Media Center” in Antigua, Guatemala, which was when I learned about her new book, which was published by Conocimientos Press.

Her book tells a compelling story of a commitment to investigative reporting for the Latina community and how she went on to train rural and provincial journalists throughout Latin America, but especially in Guatemala. She counteracted the tendency for big-city journalists to look down on local reporters when they came to the provinces. The author would eventually establish the “Gracias Vida Media Center” in Antigua.

The Long Night of White Chickens was my introduction to Francisco Goldman, the author who I selected to review due to his connections to Guatemala, and I’ve been a fan ever since.  Though born in Boston, his mother is a Catholic Guatemalan, his father Jewish American, so his life started off with an intriguing combination of influences. The book is a tense, almost surrealistic detective story that opens windows on the Latin American reality of State Sponsored assassinations, marabunta youth gangs and organized crime.

Covering the wars in Central America in the 1980s for Harper’s magazine led Goldman to write The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism that examines the assassination of Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi Conedera by the Guatemalan military. This book was of great interest as political corruption and human rights abuses by the Guatemalan military will be part of our documentary, “Trouble in the Highlands”.  Since reviewing The Art of Political Murder I’ve interacted with Goldman and now he’s expressed a willingness to be interviewed for the documentary.

His latest book is powerful on so many levels and provides additional insights into the author’s previous works. It’s a hybrid of autobiography and fiction which reveals the author’s fascinating journey across several countries and even more cultures while allowing him to fill in some of the gaps in his story with creative story telling at its best. As Publishers Weekly correctly points out, “Captivating…Goldman’s direct, intimate writing alone is worth the price of admission.” And Kirkus’s starred review states, “The warmth and humanity of Goldman’s storytelling are impossible to resist.”

Voice of the Day
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
Maya Angelou, author

Just Keep Laughing
During this embarrassing period in Arizona of our voter “audit”, I’m more likely to respond to the question of where I’m from with, “I was born in New Jersey,” or “I was brought up in Colorado” or “I worked for many years in Guatemala…”

What Others Are Saying About Us
“Hal Rifken is producing another fabulous documentary on Guatemala.  His work is exemplary and important,” Mark Zober, board member of Partnering from Peace. Hal is our documentary Director and cinematographer

All 60 book reviews and 25 articles, plus several videos, are at “Follow” me on Twitter., @millionmile_wal Facebook for the latest on international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.


Mark D. Walker

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