I interview an amazing couple, Luis Fernandez and Mare Schumacher. Luis and Mare both work in the public sector, but on the show we discuss their work as activists for a variety of causes. Luis grew up in Nicaragua and shares stories from the revolution there as well as witnessing anti-globalization protests in Mexico. Mare shares about protesting Nixon as well as campaigning to save A1 Mountain in Tempe, Arizona. I met Luis and Mare through the PineStories event in Flagstaff, Arizona. They are great storytellers, and with two great storytellers on the episode, this one runs a little longer than usual.
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For the full transcript of this episode, read on:
ANNOUNCER: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. You host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
SHARON: This season was brought to you by VolunteerPro. VolunteerPro provides online volunteer management training, coaching, and community to leaders and volunteers at all levels. Learn more at volpro.net and stay tuned for later in the show when I will tell you about a special discount for our listeners.
SHARON: I’m Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, welcome back to Do Good, Be Good. This is our first season and we are half way through. So far this season we have heard stories about helping ranging from being a parent soccer coach to founding a nonprofit to help rebuild Nepal. On this show I try to get to know helpful people and go deeper than the usual pleasantries of “isn’t that nice” or “you are such a good person”. Helping is complicated, often it is hard, and sometimes it is funny. Usually it is all three. We will definitely cover all of that in this episode. Let’s dive in. Today I am speaking to Luis Fernandez and Mare Schumacher. Luis is Criminology and Criminal Justice Professor at Northern Arizona University and Mare is an epidemiologist working for the County Health District. I met Luis and Mare through the Storytelling competition here in Flagstaff Arizona.
MARE: My first official protest was against Nixon in; I think 1975, so that’s certainly, … I mean I was a small tiny baby at the time, but no, I was a teenager. But I grew up; both of my parents studied political science and were very active politically so I think that brought me into thinking that way.
LUIS: And I go way back. I am from Nicaragua. I was born there and there was a revolution in 1978/79 and the revolution started actually way before that so by the time that I was 7 years old, 8 years old I kind of saw it all around me. It’s kind of a little weird, but even by the age of 9 or 10 I felt like I was ready to be a guerrilla fighter. Which is kind of strange; it’s kind of a strange thing, but for some reason it just made perfect sense to me. At the time there were guerrilla fighters in the mountains and they were recruiting heavily from high school students and university students. I was in Elementary, maybe fifth grade, sixth grade, and the older brothers of these individuals were already involved in that. It was not unusual to show up to school and actually have a younger brother open up something and actually have different kind of things in there including different kinds of bombs which they would then bring in; the younger brothers would bring them in and then give them to the older brothers, right during different kinds of protest. So I saw that really early on. My parents caught me because I was buying big firecrackers and throwing them at National Guard who were part of this dictatorship. When my parents saw that they immediately took me out of the country. I was probably 8 years old at that point. Again probably not the smartest thing to be doing as an 8 year old.
SHARON: You mention Mare that your first protest was for Nixon, so…
MARE: Against Nixon
MARE: Against, yea, let’s just get that out there
SHARON: How did it go?
MARE: It was a hilariously small group of us high school students. I would say about 5 of us walking down Main St in Ann Arbor and really pretty much people ignored us, but you know we did what we had to do. We felt good about it.
SHARON: So how long did it take before you protested something else?
MARE: Oh probably, very soon. I went to a high school that was started by administrators and teachers in the sixties who had really high ideals. They wanted our high school to teach us to be independent and do independent studies. So we called our teachers by their first names, there were no rules about having to go to class; if you did the work you did the work. And they were all very much about power of people and things that you can do to make the world a better place. That was kind of the whole, it was called Community High School, so it was all about contributing to the community.
SHARON: How did the two of you meet? We don’t have anything as to why you are both here together?
MARE: It would be so fun if we had met at a protest or something. That would be great, but we didn’t.
LUIS: We kind of did. We didn’t quite meet like that, but we actually connected when you were doing…
MARE: Oh, that’s true.
LUIS: Yea, what were you doing?
MARE: Martin Luther King Day. At the time we didn’t have Martin Luther King Day in Arizona. It was 92. So we had a campaign going to get it on the ballot so we could vote it in. In fact we are one of the few states that voted in Martin Luther King Day instead of just having it basically from the FEDS. I was working on that and I met Luis and then we hung out and wanted to go hiking. We got to be friends and then the rest is history.
LUIS: from that point on we were together and then there were just a series of different campaigns including the Save the Butte campaign that we helped run. This is the A Mountain in Tempe that developers wanted to … and I am not joking … blow up one third of it so that they could create a pearl of shops. So part of the reason that it is now a City park is because of efforts that we were part of back then.
MARE: But one of my favorite things about the Save the Butte campaign was, we had to convince City Hall, so we needed to get enough of the city council people on our side. So we knew that meant getting public opinion, saving that small mountain. One in our group was a really good handyman, so the week before the council was going to vote on it, he made this sign that was as big as a house … would you say Luis?
MARE: So what you did was you kind of touched a couple wires on the back and it would light up, SAVE, and then you could light up THE, and then you could light up BUTTE. And so at 4th of July when the entire area was packed by the river, we had this big sign up by the butte that said, SAVE, THE, BUTTE; SAVE … THE … BUTTE… SAVE… THE … BUTTE. It was wonderful. And then in the meantime we were getting signatures down at the bottom of the butte.
LUIS: It was one of the most successful campaigns we have ever worked.
MARE: Yea, we are usually fighting uphill.
SHARON: I was about to ask that. What I typically think of with protesting is that it is just dogged and hard because so often you are, you are fighting a losing battle.
LUIS: But you have to learn, I mean you learn over the years that protesting, being in the streets and actually marching is just one tactic of multiple and if you know what you are doing you use it tactically. You can only go to the streets so many times before it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever. But there are times when you go to the streets and it has a huge effect.
MARE: And I agree, protesting isn’t always, it isn’t always what you need to do, it needs to be part of the strategy. So, for example, lately there have been some ALT-right groups and Nazi groups that have either been having a lecture so called by somebody or a demonstration. I think our best bet with that is not to show up, not to protest, because that’s what gives it the energy, that’s what puts it on the news. That’s my feeling about the strategy.
LUIS: And we may disagree about that one.
MARE: We probably do.
SHARON: Another group that Luis and Mare worked with was a non-violent peace group formed after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started. It was in this group that Luis and Mare’s next story takes place.
LUIS: And we got to meet lots of really cool people and one of them was this young woman who was brilliant, absolutely brilliant and one day she came up to me and said, “Hey Luis, I need you to do me a favor” and I said, “Sure, how can I help you?”. “Well in this group there is this guy and he is kind of stalking me a little bit and I am a little scared and a little worried.” And I was like, “Sure what would you like me to do?” and she said, “Well I don’t want to call the police because I don’t want to get him involved in the criminal justice system because something bad might happen to him. Why don’t we run a peaceful intervention? Why don’t we run an intervention where you guys come in and you talk to him about, you know, kind of what he’s doing and you tell him not to do that, tell him that it’s not OK, because it’s having an effect on me. And it’s not good. And you just have a conversation and we deal with it peacefully.” And I thought, ok, well, I’ve never done anything like that but it doesn’t sound too hard. And she said, “And I’ve assembled a team for you” So I’ve got friends of mine, women who I was already friends with, these two feminist women who were pretty powerful. A professor who had done peaceful intervention before, and she adds, “And my neighbor. My neighbor is this security guard somewhere and it is probably good to have a security person there”. And I am thinking, sure, what could go wrong? This group, we got together, and came up with a very simple plan. The plan was we are going to invite him to come and meet with us and we are going to show up there early. They said Luis, you seem to be really eloquent and outspoken, so you should be the guy who does this.
MARE: It was just going to be a regular meeting.
MARE: So he doesn’t suspect anything.
LUIS: Yea, so he doesn’t suspect. We are going to tell him it’s a regular committee meeting. So they said, “You just need to stick with the plan. Sometimes with these individuals when you are doing an intervention, you have to lay the boundaries, tell him exactly what they’re doing, tell them that it’s not the right thing and then move him through the steps of how we are going to resolve this.” I thought that sounds pretty simple.
So the individual shows up and when he comes in… I am going to call him Bob… so Bob comes into the room and sits down in the empty chair. And as he sits down he says to me, “I have been doing a lot of thinking about this meeting and I have drawn lots of notes for you” and then slams lots of papers on the table. I just kind of quickly glance down at the table, just look down with my eyes, and what I see is little tiny stick figures, little drawings of stick figures, like children’s drawings, and I think, “well that’s kind of odd”, but ok, don’t worry about it. And then he slams a whole bunch of crayons on the table and says, “Ok, I am ready for the meeting”. I am thinking, “Ok, just stick with the script, no problem”. So as I am getting ready to speak I realize there is a smell of some heavy alcohol coming my way. I realize oh, he is really drunk. I think, just stick with the plan, this is really simple. So I say to him, “Hi, thanks for coming Bob, I appreciate you. We just wanted to tell you that you have to stop harassing this particular individual, that it’s not OK. We know you have been harassing her. We know you have been going to her house. We know that you actually slept on her porch. And it’s not ok. You need to stop right now.” So this guy looks at me. And you need to picture a guy with kind of grey hair, kind of wavy, sticking out everywhere, stubble, not shaven, and smelling of alcohol. He looks at me kind of puzzled and then turns to the person next to me and says, “Who elected this guy President?” I am actually thinking, who did elect me President? Wait a minute, he’s right, why am I running this meeting? All of a sudden I begin to question why I have been selected as the person and then I think wait, stop, you got to focus. This is the whole point; he’s going to throw me off. “Bob, listen you need to stop. We know you are doing this. It is not acceptable to do those kinds of things. We do not want to harm you in any way but we want you to stop this behavior, it is no longer acceptable, and it stops now.” And as I say this he looks again over to one of my friends and begins to say some really foul language. I will just say fudge. He says, “What the fudge is this?” and “What the, I can’t believe, what’s happening here?” And I am thinking, ok, that’s kind of weird, that’s kind of odd. And then all of a sudden the security guard, that I told you wasn’t really part of the group, steps in and this was out of script because no one was supposed to say anything except me. He steps in and he says, “Hey buddy, watch your language among the ladies in the room”. In which I am thinking, “what ladies?” What are you talking about? My mom is not in the room?” Oh, you mean, my feminist friends, who are really tough, you are calling them ladies? I didn’t say this; this was just in my head. I’m thinking, wait a minute, I feel like I am losing control. What is happening? Back to the script. “Hey everybody, just calm down”. So this is me now talking to them. “You just can’t do this anymore; this is all that we are saying”. Now Bob actually stands up, and begins to start cursing, “Fudge, fudge, fudge” and starts cursing and cursing. The security guard stands up and says, “I told you to stop that in front of the ladies, you stop that right now”, which only makes this guy start saying it louder. I am watching this thinking, what is happening? And then thinking, “I don’t think I should be the President here anymore. I just don’t want this.” He says this and now the security guard stands up and says, “Hey, sit down right now”. And Bob says, “what do you mean sit down, I am not going to sit down. I don’t have to sit down.”
“Sit down right now. I am telling you, I am giving you a warning.” And then I look over and the security guard is moving a jacket that he had on to the side and he displays a gun.
And I am thinking, “I don’t know a lot about peaceful interventions, I am not the expert, I’ve never done one, but I am pretty sure a gun is not the thing that you bring to a peaceful intervention. I am pretty sure that a peaceful intervention does not mean that you use a gun. This is not good. As I am processing this and trying to figure out what to do, because I can’t figure out how to stop this, Bob now sees the gun and says, “Oh you have a gun, what are you going to do, shoot me?” And he begins to dance going, “shoot me, shoot me, shoot me, shoot me” and the other guy’s now screaming saying, “Sit down, I told you to sit down, there’s ladies in the room”. And at this point I come to the clear realization that I have lost complete control, so I did the smartest thing that I could think of and I got up and ran out of the room. Because I realized that we were just about to shoot somebody at a peaceful intervention. So I ran out of the room, called the police and said, “oh my god, I think we are about to shoot a guy at a peaceful intervention” and they say, “What do you mean?” It’s like, “you just need to get here, there is a guy with a gun … it’s a peaceful guy… just get here”. And they showed up really quickly, it couldn’t have been 50 seconds and they were already in the room. I’m like, “they’re over here”. The police walk in and very quickly tone down the entire situation; I thought very professionally and very peacefully to have an irony there. I realized I think the police are actually trained to tone things down in some cases. And they tone down the thing, separate everybody and we are trying to explain to them what we we’re up to. I say, “well we’re having a peaceful intervention, this guy’s been harassing, we tried to tell him that and then we almost got him shot, we didn’t really mean that”. The cops just roll their eyes and they didn’t even wait for us to finish the story. Once the guy had left, Bob had left, they pretty much just walk out of the room before we could talk to them, because I think they just thought we were absolute idiots, which I think we were. I mean the only thing that I draw from that in my entire life is: 1) don’t do a peaceful intervention unless you are trained for it, and the other is, there are many things I can’t do in the world and I should really understand what they are because for some reason when you speak eloquently, people think you can do things that you are not trained for, have no knowledge at all, so I generally tend to say no to a lot of things now.
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LUIS: Everything you hold to be solid can just melt in a second and you have to just live life and operate with that understanding; that everything that you think is there and solid can go away in a second. That is what happens usually during revolutions. You see that the social fabric just disintegrates. Growing up under a dictatorship and aware of that, even by the age of 10, and knowing that was wrong is something that was key. But the other one was inspired and seeing that people eliminated that dictatorship and for a little while there was this, for a few years, people that had been subjugated and were poor felt like there was hope and there was a redistribution of goods and land and I actually saw it. So I know that it can occur… that things can change quite drastically, quite quickly. This revolution, the Nicaraguan revolution that occurs in 78/79 is almost like a blanket that that just covers everything that I did from then on whether I knew that or not. For many years I didn’t know that, that that was true. So For me, by the time I go through college, make my way through, I get to my master’s program and I decide to actually do a thesis on the Sandinistas, which is this revolutionary group that did this revolution. I go back to Nicaragua for the very first time. This probably like 92, and I actually interview many of these revolutionaries and talk to them and I write a thesis about this particular revolution. I am actually critical of it for a variety of reasons. By that time I am, I don’t know, 23/24, somewhere around there and I think that I have actually gotten this out of me. I think, thank goodness. I just wanted to get this out of me. It was going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I am so glad I have got this done; I can go be a quote unquote normal person and just join whatever work environment. I tried to do that. I got a job doing public policy research and all these kinds of things. And then I find myself particularly unhappy. Eventually, I went back to do a PhD and without me really thinking about it, without being fully conscious, I begin to start following these protests that were occurring in the united states in 1999/2000 that were around the anti-Globalization movement. So I actually went to one and I find myself in Mexico. There are young Maoists who are trying to fight with cops and they get into a full fight, people get hurt, and in the middle of it I realize… wait a minute… wait a minute… I just duplicated my childhood. Without me knowing I just unconsciously created a situation for me to be in the exact same feeling of panic and weirdness that I had when I was a child. It was at that moment that I realized that this is something that is deep and drives what I do, that I am going to do it again. This means I am going to do it again and again. I have two choices, I either do it unconsciously or I do it consciously. It was a particularly strong moment for me when I just surrendered. I thought ok, I surrender. Once I did that, everything just made perfect sense.
So I am interviewing lots of people, lots of Mexican farmers, lots of people that are there in the protests who are protesting globalization and the opening of food markets. This young Zapatista really, this young guy, young farmer from Chiapas; he is talking and I am interviewing him, because I am with a friend who is making a documentary and I speak Spanish and I am like, sure I will help you. And as I am interviewing the person, that is when the riot really breaks out. The riot rocks are flying people are getting hurt and I am just kind of interviewing this guy and saying, “Hey, why are you here” and he turns to me and says, “I am here because I don’t really have a choice. I am a farmer and they are getting ready to open up these global markets and if they do that, I grow corn, and if they open the global market on corn I won’t be able to compete and I won’t be able to sell my corn and I am going to have to sell my land and maybe even leave Mexico and travel to the US and I don’t want to do that. I have no interest in doing that”. As he is saying this, I see out of the corner of my eye that there is a commotion and things are getting more intense and more people are coming out of the crowd bloodied from this fight they are having with the cops. And this guy turns to me and he says, “Hey, I think somebody is going to die here today”. When he said this to me it really struck a chord because I realized that he was right, that somebody was going to die. I also realized that when he said it, he meant that it could be him, and he was ok with that. And he finished by saying, “Somebody is going to die and it is going to be an honorable death”. I remembered thinking, yea; it would be an honorable death. Wow, this is a fight and this guy is willing to fight and I am not sure I am willing to die. I am really not sure if I am willing to die today whether it is honorable or not. I am not sure that death is the thing… it made me realize that in a certain way I was a traveler through these parts. That even though I was watching and observing, I wasn’t there fully committed to this thing. But others were. But that taught me a lot of different things. It taught me the seriousness of what I was doing, and not to treat it lightly. That I was there and I needed to be respectful that people were doing some amazing things and running some risks that I am not sure I was willing to run at that particular point.
SHARON: Has that feeling come up again in protests when you have thought that, well this is the type of thing I am actually committed to.
LUIS: Yea, absolutely. In fact that is the first time that I really understood commitment. Ok, then this is serious. From that moment on, I just began to think, at what moment do I die? At what moment do I have an honorable death? What is an honorable death? I have been much more open to those kinds of things. You might have heard that story that I told a couple weeks ago that had to do with white supremacists calling me and threatening my life for political reasons. As I listen to these threats to my life, that felt very real and very scary, the solace that I felt, the only solace that I found, was that I thought, oh yea, this would be an honorable death. If a white supremacists came to me and thought that I was threatening enough to what they are doing to kill me, I think that’s ok. I think that would bring an enormous amount of… it would shed some light onto some of the stuff that is happening to lots of people that is not being talked about.
That is not to say that I am brave, or a martyr, or that I actually want to die. Please, I am like a chicken. I don’t actually like any of that stuff, that’s just to say that there are times when ideas matter a hell of a whole lot.
SHARON: Well, that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good and thanks to everyone who has subscribed to this podcast. Please subscribe in iTunes to get the next episode when it is released next Wednesday.
For show notes on this episode, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. That is also where you can find the discount code for Volunteer Pro and more information about Do Good, Be Good.
Thanks as always to our host Sun Sounds of Arizona for the recording space. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, Released under a Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.