By Nic Johnson, Undergraduate Research Assistant
At the launch of Beverly Bell’s new book Fault Lines: Views across Haiti’s Divide last Sunday, I joined a group of more than thirty devoted readers, supporters, and colleagues overflowing the bustling back room of The Coupe in Washington, D.C. The book surveys the conditions in displaced persons camps, shantytowns, and rural villages in the year following the 2010 earthquake, but what makes the book truly unique is Bell’s use of street journalism and personal experiences to report sentiments at a local level.
Beverly Bell’s introduction highlighted not only her new book and current work with the Other Worlds group, but a history of achievements and activism globally. Over her career Bell has dedicated her time to promote just economies, democratic participation, and the rights of excluded peoples in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. The true testament to her enthusiasm for Haitian causes came from the story of how her first trip at 15 years old has become a more than three decade career for and within the country.
The discussion of her experiences and recommendations for the future of Haiti followed the defining principles featured in her book of inclusion and the power of unified action to “inspire and mobilize people.” A defining excerpt was what Bell cited as “the point of the entire book.”
Haiti’s experience shows that exaggerated poverty is unnatural and avoidable. It is the result of choices in policy, programs, and practices by the national elite and international community. This means that Haiti nor the world is condemned to its current state. Other choices can yield different, better outcomes.
From this introduction she shared favorite chapters from the book, each featuring stories and perspectives from the “hundreds of Haitians you would not normally hear.”
After reading many accounts from post-earthquake Haiti, I had anticipated another grim survey of the horrors exposed by the earthquake and throughout recovery. However, the laughter from both audience and author at descriptions of new dance styles inspired by the song Anba Dekonb (Under the Rubble) made one point evident, Bell’s book is not a simple story of despair. Instead, Fault Lines shows how Haitians have transformed tragedy into opportunity and characterizes the role she believes the international community must take to support a new wave of activism.