Saturday, November 8, 2008

For those in Tucson

A tribute from a friend Donny at the EF! journal here in Tucson

In the early morning of September 15, Sali Eiler was brutally raped and murdered in a ramshackle cabin outside of San Jose del Pacifico, in the southern mountains of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Sali’s death has come as a crushing blow to many activists in the US and Mexico.

Sali, 20, was living in Oaxaca City at the time of her death. She had been living and working with the Indigenous Popular Council of Oaxaca-Ricardo Flores Magón (CIPO) off and on since the Summer of 2007. CIPO is a community-based organization that stands up for the rights of poor and native communities in Oaxaca. Most recently, Sali had been acting as a witness for people facing repression. Before her death, she had been staying with the family of a witness to the murder of Earth First!er Brad Will in Oaxaca City in 2006. Because of her unyielding commitment to defending the human rights of Oaxacans in danger, Sali recently noticed that she’d begun to be followed around Oaxaca City. It’s unknown if this had anything to do with her death.

When not in Mexico, Sali lived primarily in Tucson, Arizona. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, Sali’s primary home for the last few years has been Tucson.
Sali has been involved in a wide array of campaigns. In 2003, going by her forest name, Ratty, she was active with the all-womyn treesit in Unit 6 of the Straw Devil timber sale in her native Oregon. Two years later, Sali was the youngest persyn arrested defending an area known as the Biscuit timber sale—the largest timber sale in US history.

More recently, while in Tucson, Sali was heavily involved in No More Deaths, a group dedicated to helping immigrants crossing the Mexico-US border stay alive by leaving water in the desert and monitoring various known immigrant trails. Sali was primarily a coordinator of supplies for the Mariposa crossing, outside of Nogales, Sonora/Arizona. She devoted her time to organizing food deliveries to a camp on the Mexican side of the border where immigrants are brought after they are caught illegally crossing through the US.

Sali was also a contributor to the Earth First! Journal, writing about indigenous resistance to illegal logging in the mountains of Oaxaca. When in Tucson, she brought smiles and laughter to the Journal’s mailing parties.

In addition, Sali sang in the Tucson-based punk band, Cizaña. I had the good fortune to play drums in Cizaña with her. We just completed a three-week tour through Mexico in June, letting Sali off on the southern end of the tour to travel back to Oaxaca and resume her work with CIPO. The outpouring of support since Sali has died from the people we met on that tour has been amazing. She is certainly one who touched an incredible amount of people very deeply.

Sali’s body was discovered on September 24, 10 days after she died, by a man who was feeding some dogs and smelled something disturbing. She was identified within a day, but the Mexican government did not seem interested in investigating what had happened. Instead, friends of hers in Oaxaca, traveling to various locales and calling other friends on the phone, connected the dots and located her killer.

The killer showed up at a popular squatted community space in Mexico City with stab wounds and bruises (inflicted by Sali during his attack on her). After punks at the squat questioned him and verified information with people in San Jose del Pacifico, Sali’s friends were convinced they had the murderer. They threw a party on September 26, explicitly to get the psychopath in a certain place at a certain time. The killer showed up, was confronted, admitted to killing Sali and promptly had the living crap beat out of him. Eventually, the beating stopped and the scumbag was handed over to the police.

Those of us who knew Sali well will remember her as an inspiration. While only 20 years old, she had been traveling since she was 15, living exactly the life she wanted to live. She was one of those special people who know what they want and seize it. She was full of energy and passion, obsessively belly dancing at every chance she got, playing her banjo when she found a moment and injecting a sense of light-heartedness into the lives of those around her. At a memorial in Tucson the night many of us found out about her death, I couldn’t suppress an image of Sali seeing all of us devastated and mournful, coming up to the circle with a wry grin, saying, “Shiiiat, y’all are some suckaasss. Get up and dance, chikitossss!”

A few days after the news of Sali’s death spread among her friends in the US, the body of Kirsten Brydum, a San Francisco-based activist, was found in New Orleans with multiple gunshot wounds in her head. Kirsten was an organizer with the Really Really Free Market in San Francisco. At the time of her death, she was on a speaking tour with a group seeking to link anarchist projects around the US. Many people die every day, but it’s so hard to function when these genuinely good people, coming from the same general community of activists, die in so narrow a timeframe.

It can be tempting to speculate that the US or Mexican governments were somehow involved in both of these deaths (as some have done), but we need to realize that, broader than a focused government crackdown on specific activists, general violence against wimmin remains a tragically widespread problem. It’s so crucial that those of us who perpetuate patriarchy and male dominance actively address those issues—within ourselves and our communities. Too many wimmin have suffered. For the sakes of Sali, Kirsten and wimmin everywhere, this needs to stop.

Donny still finds it hard to believe that he’ll never see Sali again. He’s hoping she’s somewhere with lots of space to belly dance.

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