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.