We need to think. This is what's missing from us, energetically speaking...
We can't out-fight them, but we can out-think them. -
John Trudell

Monday, August 17, 2015

White Progressives and the Fracture of Good Order

Our apologies good friends
for the fracture of good order 
the burning of paper instead of children  
the angering of the orderlies
in the front parlor of the charnel house

We could not  so help us God, do otherwise
For we are sick at heart, our hearts
give us no rest, for thinking of the Land of Burning Children...

These lines came to mind when thinking about the Marissa Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willaford interrupting Bernie Sanders speech.  The video is uncomfortable to watch, it is truly an interruption.   To be honest my own momentary thought when first hearing about the action in Seattle was, "But why Bernie? Bernie is good."  

After watching the video what stayed with me is the break in this young woman's voice.  The pain that you could hear as she declared over boos and shouts, "My life fucking matters."  She started to cry while talking and this has gone unmentioned in so much of the comments on their action. That hit me deep because much is said about the stereotype of the strong and/or angry black woman and what I see there is even when your voice breaks and you cry so many people (especially white people) can't even see/feel that. Damn.

And whatever you think of their strategy (and to be clear it was a strategy and this piece is not about that)  Marissa Johnson was making a brilliant point that was completely missed in the uproar over her fracture of good order.  

Seattle is one of the most progressive cities in the USA as is my own city Minneapolis and yet in both cities life for many Black, Brown and Indigenous People is full of the same struggles and inequalities as cities that are not progressive.  In fact my own city Minneapolis tops many lists for most livable, most bike friendly and healthiest and yet at the same time tops lists for highest racial inequity in education, jobs, police brutality and arrests and convictions for non-violent crimes. The point being that in a white supremacy progressive politics that at their core are not about dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy will not actually dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy.  It is actually that simple.  

This is what people of color/feminist/womanist /activists/thinkers/artists have been saying for a very long time.   

I have read many white people saying that the Black Lives Matter activists made no alliances with this action. I think the uncomfortable truth is that these activists weren't trying to win approval or allies. What a thought.  Maybe they don't really care if white people are upset by there actions or if we think they are good, right, deserving of our support or anything else.  

Maybe it is the failed response by white progressives not just to this moment but to what has been going on in this country for years that has failed in the alliance building.  Maybe we as white people collectively failed a long time ago to build alliances with progressive black, brown and indigenous people.  And maybe black, brown and indigenous people are going on with or without us to transform the world.

Maybe white progressives are the ones who are behind and need to catch up to join a movement that could actually transform our world.  A world that teeters on the edge of so much loss and also so much possibility.  It's not that we bring nothing to that movement, each and every one of us are needed and worthy. But maybe we white progressives collectively don't bring what we assume we bring. Maybe we don't have the biggest vision, the clearest analysis and the best answers to get us all out of this.  It's not about feeling bad, it's about winning.  And I do think that most white progressives very much want a world without racism.        

Bernie Sanders is a smart, grown man with years of political experience, lets assume he can handle being interrupted and he can handle criticism, even angry criticism.  If he responds to being pushed to articulate a platform that really addresses white supremacy it will make him a better candidate.  What if white progressives pushed him even more to become a candidate that actually earned wide spread support from communities of color. And the operative word here is EARNED. Now that could really be interesting.  

The question is can this uncomfortable moment make us white progressives become clearer, more resilient people who can really be of use in the struggles that are happening to transform this world for all people, whether you are supporting Bernie Sanders as part of that strategy or not.

On May 17th, 1968 the year of my birth, Father Daniel Berrigan along with eight other people entered a draft board in Baltimore and removed draft files of men that were about to be sent to Vietnam. They burned the files with home made napalm.  At his trial Father Dan read a statement/poem that reads in part...

Our apologies  good friends
for the fracture of good order  the burning of paper
instead of children  the angering of the orderlies
in the front parlor of the charnel house
We could not  so help us God  do otherwise
For we are sick at heart   our hearts
give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children...

We say:  Killing is disorder
life and gentleness and community and unselfishness
is the only order we recognize...

The heartbreaking truth is we all live in the Land of Burning Children.  We are the land that in 2015 must have a movement that declares,  "Black Lives Matter!"  and "Native Lives Matter!"  and a movement that declares "No human being is illegal!"  

You can disagree with tactics.  It is an important conversation to keep having for anybody that actually wants to win real changes for ourselves, our communities, the earth that is our home.   It will not be enough to elect Bernie Sanders to transform this country just as electing Barack Obama was not enough. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy (as bell hooks succinctly puts it) is not something so easily dismantled and transformed. Amazing, smart, courageous people have been at it a long time including many white people.  As hard as this world is I can not imagine the complete hell it would be without this resistance and creation. 

Now is the time for white progressives to collectively figure out how to become a part of a movement that really centers dealing with, challenging, or as the t'shirt I have seen so bluntly puts it "Kill white supremacy" and I would add kill patriarchy and all that brings with it: homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. 

If white progressives do not make the core of our work dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy then all our progressive politics and even all the gains we make become nothing more than making the Titanic a nicer ship to sink on.  

Full statement by Daniel Berrigan

There are many great pieces being written by People of Color about the deeper issues brought up by this moment.  Here are two.

I support Bernie Sanders and I support the Black Lives Matter takeover in Seattle.

Black Lives Matter More Than Hurt Feelings of White Progressives.

Listen to more of what Marissa Johnson has to say about her action. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

White supremacy killed Sandra Bland no matter how she died.

First, because I am writing and thinking about people I do not know I want to acknowledge what is stolen and never forget- I am talking about real people and their families immense loss.      

So much of the media conversation is centering on the idea that Sandra Bland committed suicide while being held in jail and was not murdered.  Of course it matters if she was physically murdered by someone or if she took her own life or even if she was denied proper medical care after her assault.  And  I want to state here that it is not at all clear that she did kill herself and people have every justifiable reason to suspect she was murdered or died from being denied proper treatment in jail. 

Denial of medical care is another form of murder as in the devastating case of 24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear who was jailed on a bond violation and was found unconscious in her cell on July 6 after pleading for medical help.  In Circle Bear's case the autopsy claims she died of a meth overdose. Again, even if that is true, having drugs in your system or a drug addiction does not mean you should be left to die in your cell for a minor offense.  Read more about her case. 

It’s important to articulate that however Sandra Bland died, the man that stopped her for failing to signal a lane change and then on camera antagonizes and proceeds to brutalize her is to blame for her death.  As is the system of white supremacy that is the police system that arrested her and the jail system that held her.

I don’t mean this as a metaphor.  Even if every single thing the sheriff’s office is throwing out there turns out to be true in some form or another the real truth remains...If Sandra Bland had not been stopped by this man and physically assaulted and then arrested and held in jail she would not be dead right now. No matter what her personal struggles were in life she would be alive, starting a new job and dealing with those struggles. Take a moment and think about what this kind of assault and imprisonment would do to you? The sheriff wants people to think if he proves she killed herself while under his control some how that lets them off the hook and turns this into just an unfortunate incident.    

To add to this ridiculous assertion, The Waller County sheriff, R. Glenn Smith releases the toxicology report that shows elevated THC in Sandra Bland’s body after her death.  This has no bearing on the case.  The ridiculous assertion that some how marijuana use prior (or some how during) her imprisonment is an explanation for what they claim is her suicide but the physical assault and wrongful imprisonment would not be a factor is ludicrous. 

White supremacy is a killing force in our society.  Whether Sandra Bland was straight up murdered or brutalized and terrorized in a way that caused her to harm herself the responsibility falls on the people and institution that used their authority to stop her, assault her, imprison her.  Let me just name that one more time- Stop her.  Assault her.  Imprison her.  She died under their authority.  

It matters to nuance this conversation even if it turns out that Sandra Bland did some how take her own life.  Because what we are really confronting is that white supremacy is terrorism and it does just what terrorism is supposed to do.  

From the FBI website:Domestic terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population (or governments)
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
The seemingly endless videos of Black, Brown and Indigenous men, women and children being terrorized, punched, kicked, tackled, choked and outright shot down by police all over this country is the context in which to examine how a woman driving down a residential road, minding her own business could end up dead after forgetting to signal a lane change.  

It is horrifying to face the outright murder of human beings and it is equally horrifying to face the terrorizing of people to the point that they harm themselves.  Either way the system of white supremacy and the people that hold authority in that system are responsible for this woman’s life being stolen from her and from those that loved her just as it is responsible for stealing Sarah Lee Circle Bear from her children and family.  These stories are just two of too many to count and each life stolen by white supremacy breaks the hearts of so many and continues to terrorize whole communities in our country.