Gathering Rage Monthly Review Press, 1992

Chapter 1 / Where It Suddenly Came Clear . . . (fragment)

The scene is a solidarity conference in Managua, October 1991. A year and a half after its electoral defeat, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has invited supporters of Nicaragua’s revolution to meet and analyze is current situation, and to talk about future strategies. We have come from Latin America, the United States and Canada, Europe, even Asia and Australia. I see no one from Africa. Women and men seem equally represented.

This is my first trip back to Nicaragua since I left in 1984. Recognition and anguish wash over me in alternating waves of feeling. Memory plays strange tricks. The wet heat is familiar, comforting. Squeezing a bit of lime onto a steak that I know represents sacrifice in this country today reminds me of the stores filled with produce so few can buy. An immense figure of Sandino takes me by surprise. The terrible sense of loss seems most immediately evident to me in the dozens of murals—painted by artists from all over the world—that have been erased as if their beauty never existed here.

The solidarity conference was a different experience for each of us, depending perhaps most of all on our age and the length of time we had been involved with the Nicaraguan revolutionary movement. Filling out my registration form and coming to the question, “In what year did you begin your support work for the FSLN?” I realized as I wrote “1971” that it’s been twenty years.

Twenty years, first of mundane work, a sort of tenacious patience, then of an involvement that it used to surprise me was shared by so few, the grandiose feats of a David confronting Goliath, the terrible deaths of comrades and, finally, victory in 1979: so sudden as to seem almost unreal. And then there was no stopping, even to rest. Many revolutionaries have spoken or written that the task of remaking society is infinitely more difficult than winning a war of liberation.

At this conference a cheerful young woman held my attention. Wearing a red and black neckerchief, she looked in her early twenties. Michele Costa, of the Nicaraguan Network, told me that she is from Idaho, a farm worker whose parents are Republicans and who calls the Network at least once or twice a week to offer help with one task or another. When Sandinista dignitaries come to the United States on speaking tours, this young woman sends them little gifts, handmade by her and her friends in the country’s heartland. I felt a mixture of gratitude and anxiety for this woman’s eagerness and trust. Despite a few obvious differences, she might have been me two decades before . . .