When You Are Living In Circumstances of Systemic Oppression, Just Surviving is an Act of Resistance (There is No Right Way)

Do not shame people for not marching.
Do not shame people for not protesting.
Do not shame people FOR marching.
Do not shame people FOR protesting.
Do not shame people who are weeping.
Do not shame people who are silent.
Do not shame people who are removing themselves from the pain.
Do not shame people who are re-blogging everything they can get their hands on.

Self-care takes different forms.
Help each other heal.

–Ashley R. Oliver

For people dealing with systemic oppression, there is some idea that there is a right way to deal with it. There isn’t a right way. There are so many ways. Sometimes living your life and trying to be as happy and healthy as you can is the right way for you. Sometimes trying to make as much change as you can is the right way for you. Sometimes the right way is educating yourself as much as possible. Sometimes the right way is reading science fiction or playing basketball. Sometimes the right way is making art. Sometimes the right way is writing or talking about the situation to everyone who will listen. Sometimes the right way is taking a bath. Sometimes the right way is organizing within your community to meet the needs of the people. Sometimes the right way is to get politically involved. Sometimes the right way is to give up on politics. Sometimes the right way is to protest. Sometimes the right way is marching in the street, sitting in an intersection, picking up a megaphone or a microphone, handcuffing yourself to something inconvenient, annoying people into paying attention. Sometimes the right way is staying home, putting your pjs on and turning the news off. Sometimes the right way is going away where there aren’t any people and reconnecting with the sky and the sea, the earth and the trees. Sometimes the right way involves talking and crying or laughing about it with a friend. Sometimes the right way involves destroying inanimate objects. Sometimes the right way involves donating time or money to an organization you believe in. Sometimes the right way involves putting your fingers in your ears and saying La-la-la-la-la-la-la because you just can’t tolerate hearing about another person who could have been your sibling or cousin or child or parent or lover or partner or best friend being lynched in some way.

For many of us, what is right for us is going to be different on any given day, in any given moment, for any different reason. One day, I need to read every single page of The New Jim Crow or The Warmth of Other Suns. The next, I need to watch Scandal. One day, I need to march in the streets and scream at the top of my lungs. The next day, I need to meditate and for everything to be still and quiet. One day, I need to talk to everyone I encounter about racism. The next day, I need to make love to someone wonderful and make jokes with them about nothing much in particular. One day, I need to read everything I can find about the last person who was a victim of extrajudicial execution. The next day, I just can’t. La-la-la-la-la.

There is no right way.

My friends, my community, may we please honor the different ways that people take care of themselves under circumstances of oppression. There do not need to be divisions between us based on having different strategies for dealing with what has been done to us.

My friends, my community, please listen to the needs of your body and your heart and your spirit and take the kinds of actions that support your being whole and healthy as you engage with the horrors of the world.

You are precious.

When you are living in circumstances of oppression, just surviving is an act of resistance.

 

Take care.

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I Invite Us All to a Greater Level of Racial Honesty

First, check out this speech:

http://fusion.net/story/229269/deray-mckesson-gay-blacklivesmatter/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=socialshare&utm_content=desktop+top

Then, read the rest of this post:

In the past year or two, I have been, as DeRay McKesson says in this speech, “coming out of the quiet.”

I have joked often about how I’m “coming out as Black,” and it’s more than a joke. I have been challenging myself to speak up and speak out about racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as I see them, experience them, and/or as the have affected me and others. But, particularly, I have been finding my voice as a Black person to name issues of race as they arise in my life, in my history, in my life circumstances, and within the world.

The taboo against naming, acknowledging, and dealing with matters of race in this country is profound. Just naming my own truth, my own experience of the subtle and profound racialized experiences I am having and witnessing on any given day is a radical act. It is terrifying. Yet, the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I feel my strength and my power and my vitality growing to overshadow the fear of harm coming to me (in any of the innumerable ways that harm can come, from social/professional censure to incarceration to assassination a.k.a. “suicide in police custody”).

I have been moved and inspired and emboldened by activists in the #BlackLivesMatter  movement to speak out, to protest, to educate, to agitate, and again and again to refuse compliance with the conspiracy of silence that insists that people like me keep our mouths shut in the face of overwhelming and systemic oppression, discrimination, violence, and tyranny.

Not only do #BlackLivesMatter, but #BlackVoicesMatter, #BlackStoriesMatter, #BlackTruthMatters.

I may not be able to change systemic racism all by myself, but I can change the volume setting on my own voice. I can take my voice off of mute. I can project it. I can add my voice to the chorus of people speaking up.

Whether or not anyone else listens to me, *I* listen to me speaking up on my own behalf and on behalf of my own Blackness and it strengthens and empowers me. Some part of my soul that was dying due to voicelessness comes alive again and grows strong.

But, there is power in numbers. I want to invite us all to a greater level of #RacialHonesty. The invitation is for those of us whose voices have been more silenced in this country on the basis of race to acknowledge our racial experience (to the degree that we safely and healthily can) and for those whose stories and voices are privileged in this country on the basis of race to be more honest about what they do not know about the experience of people of color. It requires bravery on all sides. The more people of color who bravely speak up about their racial truth and the more white folks who bravely (and with cultural humility) listen, learn, and ally with us, the more change is possible.

Let us all come out of the quiet.

(P.S. Do actually listen to the speech DeRay McKesson gives here. It’s good.)

The Necessity of Rest and the Discipline of Hope in the Social Justice Movement

 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence.
It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

–Audre Lorde, from A Burst of Light, Essays.

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I am back from Oahu. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the time in close companionship with my love Joy. We talked and laughed and processed and cried and swam and hiked and snorkeled and bodyboarded and cuddled and cooked and ate and sang and celebrated and meditated and took pictures and read my journal from the POC meditation retreat and read aloud to each other from Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

We felt big feelings. We held onto each other while feelings were felt. We fed our souls on the ocean and the sky and the wind and the rock and the sand. We fed our souls on visionary Afro-futurist fiction. We fed our souls on each other.

Inspired by a story in Octavia’s Brood, we considered writing letters from Joy and me post-capitalism to Joy and me during capitalism, the two of us here in the present day who could use some hope that a better future is possible.

We considered the deaths of John Crawford and Michael Brown. We considered the history of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Joy dissertated. I applied to the Practice in Transformative Action Program at the East Bay Meditation Center, trying to put words to my beliefs about social justice, about how change takes place, about my vision for a just and peaceful future. Joy read Twitter newsfeeds, taking in what was happening in Ferguson and telling me about the protests, about the gunshots, about the arrests. We alternated using our hands and our thumbs and our smartphones and our hearts and our guts to write posts about race on Facebook, to dialogue and discourse, to do the work of learning, of educating, of honesty. We tried to understand the role of rest in social justice work, the necessity of replenishment, the investment in self-care that makes the lifelong work sustainable.

We rested. We replenished. We invested in self-care.

We sang on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. We sang “Ella’s Song,” the Sweet Honey in the Rock Song that goes: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons, We who believe in freedom cannot rest….” The whole song is a manual for revolution. We redefined “cannot rest,” as cannot quit, because rest, regeneration, and replenishment must be part of our revolution, because we must find a way to sustain ourselves through action that will require generations of collective and committed effort. We expressed our continued intention to dedicate our time, energy, effort, action, and heart to vital and necessary work towards social justice and equity. We took a moment of silence. We sang, “I can hear my brother saying ‘I can’t breathe. Now, I’m in the struggle saying ‘I can’t leave. Calling out the violence of these racist police. We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free. We ain’t gonna stop ’til our people are free,” dropping flowers into the river and sand, a commitment ceremony. We recommitted ourselves to the movement.

Today, we talked about hopelessness. The truth is that I do not have faith that change is possible. When I look at the civil rights movements of the 1960s and consider that the words that James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time could have been written today, rather than in the 1960s, I have little faith that we are moving in a positive direction. Yet, I must continue to hold onto hope, beyond all reason, beyond all evidence that there is any cause for hope. Not because I have faith that change will come but because if we give in to hopelessness, we will cease to work towards change and then, for sure, change will never come. If we lose hope, we will not resist, because we will not believe that there is any point to resistance. We will give in. If we give in, racism wins.

Hopelessness is not an option. Resistance is mandatory.

People are dying in the streets, in their homes, in their playgrounds, in their stores, in their places of worship, because of racism. We must continue to protest, to find the ways in our lives that we can work towards changing this reality, to care for the people who are suffering the most oppression, to educate those we love and those we don’t love, to create visions of the world we want to live in and take real and practical actions, however large or small, towards building that world right here in our own communities. We must care for ourselves and for those who are different from ourselves as if they were our own kin.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

— Assata Shakur, from Assata: An Autobiography

 

All Power to All the People

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Bobby Seale (seated), along with a collection of historical posters and books.

I had the great honor to see Bobby Seale, civil rights leader and co-founder (with Huey P. Newton) of the Black Panther Party speak live in Berkeley tonight. Bobby Seale was a phenomenal activist and organizer who started a movement which had a nation-wide impact.

He spoke about the history of the Black Panther Party, the context into which they came into being, what they accomplished, the means by which they accomplished it, the powerful forces against them, the violence and injustice they endured, and the legacy they left. He answered questions about his thoughts on events of the present day (the Ferguson protests, president Barack Obama, the political process) and what he is working on currently (a film to depict with great accuracy the history of the Black Panther party & continuing to work to free the Black Panther Party members who remain imprisoned).

He is 78 years old and still fighting for All Power to All the People. It was a joy and an honor and a wonder to be able to witness this man who paved the way for me to be more comfortable and safe as a black person in Oakland, California today than I would have been without his considerable efforts and hardships.

Nevertheless, it was profoundly poignant how so many of the parts of the Black Panther’s 10 Point Program are still desperate needs today. I was struck, as I often am, at how little progress has, in fact, been made over the last several decades. When I encounter the work of social justice leaders and historians, most often, the needs of 20, 30, 40, and 50 years ago are much the same as the needs of the present day. The same kinds of racist and unjust leadership, policing, and policies are still taking place, although now we have the myth of colorblindness lying like a fog all over everything, preventing people from seeing and naming the horrors of racism.

They don’t call us niggers anymore. They call us criminals or thugs. They don’t call it slavery, anymore. They call it prison. They don’t call them lynchings, anymore. But everyone still watches while black men are killed and left to die in the middle of the road.

* * *

The Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program:

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.

2. We want full employment for our people.

3. We want an end to the robbery by the white men of our Black Community.

4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.

5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.

6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.

7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.

9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.

10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

What We Believe:

1. We believe that Black People will not be free until we are able to determine our own destiny.

2. We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the White American business men will not give full employment, the means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.

3. We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules was promised 100 years ago as redistribution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities: the Germans are now aiding the Jews in Israel for genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered 6,000,000 Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of over 50,000,000 Black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest demand that we make.

4. We believe that if the White landlords will not give decent housing to our Black community, then the housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that our community, with government aid, can build and make a decent housing for its people.

5. We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.

6. We believe that Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America. We will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, by whatever means necessary.

7. We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States gives us the right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self-defense.

8. We believe that all Black people should be released from the many jails and prisons because they have not received a fair and impartial trial.

9. We believe that the courts should follow the United States Constitution so that Black people will receive fair trials. The 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution gives a man a right to be tried by his peers. A peer is a persons from a similar economic, social, religious, geographical, environmental, historical, and racial background. To do this the court will be forced to select a jury from the Black community from which the Black defendant came. We have been, and are being tried by all White juries that have no understanding of “the average reasoning man” of the Black community.

10. When in the course of human events, it become necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, and that all men are created equal that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its power in a such a form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accused. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, and their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards of their future security.