We the People

our silence will not protect us, only we claiming our power can do that . . .

Reflections from the Women’s March, Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017

 

Pussy grabs back,
I was raised by a nasty woman and now I’m one, too,
Black lives matter,
We the People,
we bodies of the people,
are greater than fear,
keep your filthy paws off my sticky drawers,
this is what democracy looks like,
I stand with Standing Rock,
no disrespect, no going back,
we will not go quietly back to the 1950s,
my body, my choice, her body, her choice,
no to racism, homophobia, misogyny,
climate change is real, save the planet,
this man grateful to be raised by a nasty woman,
immigrants welcome, hatred not,
if I wanted government in my vagina I would have slept with a senator,
no human is illegal,
hands (or dick) too small to build a wall,
and on and on,
homemade signs and improvised chants everywhere,
notes of this land is your land, we shall overcome, on many lips,
sassiness, joy on many hips,
and arms, hands, smiles, laughter.

We came from everywhere
hundreds of thousands,
bodies gathering one by one, two by two,
young and smooth, old and wrinkled,
women yes the most but men, too,
children, parents, grandparents, college students,
tots in strollers, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis, straight,
Black and Brown, Christians, Muslims, Jews, immigrants
Dreamers, sex workers, clergy, lawyers, singers, accountants,
clerks, dock workers, athletes, unemployed, underemployed,
doctors, social workers, retirees, and all the rest.
So much joy, so many smiles, laughter and song,
dancing even when packed like sardines between monumental
buildings made small by roars of voices joined together
to stand, to rise—Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise resounding in every heart—
Angela Davis with hair out to here
reminding us of all the connections from
Ferguson to Orlando to Planned Parenthood,
from Standing Rock to Palestine.
We marched and when we could not move,
still we marched,
our hearts beating with the pulse of liberty
and justice for all. We were, we are, the People
whose claim on this nation does not cease
because voices of yesteryear now hold official power,
seeking to recapture some imagined golden era
when men were white and ran things,
while women, Blacks, queers, natives, Latinx, Muslims,
Jews, trans and physically challenged folk, and elderly,
all the rest of God’s people,
kept to themselves, not getting in the way
of those who keep anointing themselves
the powers-that-always-are and shall be.

Power to the people the long ago cry
of those marching, blocking roadways, and sitting in
to protest elites sending our beautiful boys
into senseless, ill-fated war—
now expropriated by billionaires and millionaires
to convince people with much less, so much less,
that they are all on the same side,
while cutting taxes for the richest
and insurance for the rest,
claiming science is a hoax
and Islam work of the devil—
a topsy turvy world,
growing more Orwellian by the day,
in which, for which, we must march,
more we must organize and write and speak
and sit down where we are not welcome,
learning from Dr. King and Malcolm and suffragettes
and so many more that there is nowhere
the arc of justice will not bend
and create the change we need
when we link our arms and hands and hearts
and minds and souls, becoming the angelic troublemakers
of which Rustin spoke and Baldwin wrote,
remembering as sister outsider Audre Lorde wrote, too,
our silence will not protect us,
only we claiming our power can do that.

We the people: This is our time, again.  

 

If you cannot see the entire image at the top, and wish to see this moving public art, please click here

We Can Stop Pulling the Trigger

Last Sunday, our church music director opened worship by saying, “It’s been a rough week. Not only the cold, but I have been dealing with two suicides–one an 8th grader at my school and the other a leader of the Black Lives Movement.”

I did not get a chance to ask Tyrone about the young student, but I learned about the activist through a Washington Post article a couple of days later (click here for the story).

MarShawn McCarrel complex com
MarShawn McCarrel complex.com

His name was MarShawn McCarrel, 23. He shot himself on the steps of the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus on February 8. A few hours before the shot, he posted a Facebook message, “My demons won today. I’m sorry.”

By all accounts, this was a talented young man,  dedicated to liberation and justice. He started several nonprofit organizations, a mentorship program called Pursuing Our Dreams and a charity for homeless people called Feeding Our Streets. He had become a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Ohio, following on other activism and writing poetry.

The man was a poet. On paper. And in life. Poets are people for whom words matter. Each word matters. And for this poet, lives mattered, too.

Except he could not sustain his own. He pulled the trigger.

But so did we. We–and when I say “we” I mean all of us who call ourselves white who have so far failed to undo the strangehold white supremacy, white privilege, white racism, have on our national psyche and day in and day out living in this land we claim is free and home to the brave.

As sure as anything, I believe his depression–which had plagued him for some years, after the death of his grandfather–was undone or minimized, but also deepened, by his activism.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me
observer.com

His ability to write and speak and organize and give hope to others helped to keep him going, but it was not enough to overcome the relentless–r e l e n t l e s s, let me say that again, relentless–drumbeat of negativity in his life and the lives of millions of other African American men, women, and children (remember that 8th grader?).

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his magnificent, also relentless (in a similar but also different way), letter to his son about growing up Black in America, “Between the World and Me,”

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.

Coates tells us that much of the posing and braggadocio of Black boys and young men on the streets, and the posing and efforts at creating distinct identities for the Black girls and and young women, is really in response to fear, fear for their very lives in the face of what feel like, and are, overwhelming odds against survival for many, if not most, of them in a world run by and for those who call ourselves white.

I cannot speak for MarShawn McCarrel, this lost prince of Black personhood, but I can imagine that he, like many other activists in the Black Lives Matter movement (and many in other movements for human dignity here and around the world), was brought down, depressed, by that fear, and by how little long-term deep, intentional attention is paid to the continuing violation of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, etc.

Black Lives Matter protest  startribune com
startribune.com

I know I feel that, and I am not (yet, anyway) on the front lines of that struggle. He was on the front lines, and I know from experience on my own front lines (for LGBT equality, e.g.) that there is hope, even exhilaration at moments, when you watch others see new truth, but there also is exhaustion and fear when you realize how many people aren’t paying attention and how many of those who claim they are show no signs of caring (and may even express animosity).

What Coates’ book, and the unnecessary death of MarShawn McCarrel push me into is somehow to join the front lines. I have no desire to do what we who call ourselves white so often do–move in to take over the struggle, or even to make it about me or us. And yet, I know I have and can claim my place to support McCarrell’s surviving colleagues in the movement more than I have done, and to more directly engage my siblings in white privilege so that we all may learn why and how to give it up.

I don’t want to be part of pulling the trigger any more.

I don’t want to participate, even at a distance, in snuffing a life, or silencing a voice, as magnificent as that of MarShawn McCarrel.

It is my belief that he has found peace with the God who loves him unreservedly. But I have yet to find peace in my grief for this beautiful man, and perhaps I will not any time soon, knowing–as I have chanted more than once on the streets of Richmond, New York, Boston, and will undoubtedly do so again on Washington boulevards, and maybe elsewhere–No Justice, No Peace! Know Justice, Know Peace!

The good news, if there is any in this, may be that I have found, thanks to his friends, a powerful poem of truth and life by MarShawn McCarrel. May he have the final word here, today.

Down South by Marshawn McCarrel

Whose Lives Matter?

The violence grows apace in Jerusalem. The contradiction with what its name means, city of peace, is stark. Painful. Ugly.

telegraph.co.uk
telegraph.co.uk
Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint electronicintifada.net
Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint electronicintifada.net

Who is to blame?

Palestinians who throw stones and bombs, stab people, kill parents in front of their children (picture of their car below)? The Israelis who keep the pressure on the Palestinians by building more settlements, forcing ordinary workers to wait in long lines to get permission to go to work, keep biometrics on each adult to track their movements, and whose security forces make, inevitably, “mistakes”?

jewishness.co.uk
jewishness.co.uk

There is more than enough blame to go around. There always is.

When Jonathan and I visited Jerusalem last year, and when we went to Lod for a program about building peace in that place, and I visited places outside Jerusalem as well–we came away with images of great beauty (the Old City is simply a jewel shining in the sun) and an abiding sense of tension and insecurity. We felt the tension for days after we returned to the United States.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
en.wikipedia.org

I fear for Israel. I fear for Palestine (which does not exist as an actual state, something it is easy to forget). The pathology of ever-repeating violence pervades all. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of an Us and Them dualism that runs counter to the three great monotheistic religions, and yet is threaded through each.

Even the beautiful Israeli settlements–making gardens bloom in the desert–overlook areas of Palestinian deprivation. The tension is palpable, if you look, if you are willing to see.

author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.
author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.

I have no answers, yet there must be answers. Things can not go on like this.

When Jonathan and I get into an argument, and we can get pretty ugly at times, eventually each of us has to crawl back from the flashpoint to acknowledge what went wrong, to admit our part in the failure of living side by side in peace.

The only thing I know to do is to get on my knees, making repentance for what I have done that does not serve peace and what I have not done that would serve peace.

123rf.com
123rf.com

I can hear many of my friends say, “Well, if they (the other side, whoever it is), get on their knees, then we will, too. But they have to stop the violence first.”

There is the pathology: it’s the other guy. Always the other. Kill the Jews! Kill the Arabs!

War never solves pathology, it just gives it new outlets and new justifications.

Israeli Lives MatterA dear friend sent me a graphic (see right) that has gone viral on the internet. I know the people who designed it mean to help. I know my friend means to help, too.

Sadly, however, I think it makes matters worse–not least because it is a high-jacking of a campaign by another aggrieved group in another part of the world, namely African Americans who are tired of being the targets of police and social violence.

And it harms because it implies, in this context, that Palestinian lives do not matter. More Palestinians are killed in any given year than Israelis. More Palestinians are forced from land and homes than Israelis. The Israeli Defense Force and police are far more efficient and powerful than their Palestinian counterparts.

I can hear friends reply that the campaign Black Lives Matter seems to say that White Lives Do Not Matter. Or that it should say All Lives Matter (which is what so many wanted to say in response to Black Lives Matter).

ajamubaraka.com
ajamubaraka.com

The problem is power. It always is. Nearly always, one side or the other has greater power.

My mentioning arguments between Jonathan and me is misleading in one sense: there is no real power differential between us. We both have roughly equal power at any given moment.

But African Americans know that in this country whiteness dominates. We do not need signs saying “White Lives Matter” because our entire social structure reinforces that every day.

It is not dissimilar in Israel and Palestine. Clearly, the Israeli government, and its security forces, generally have the upper hand. For example, it is only the Prime Minister of Israel who can decree that Palestinians may not enter the Old City for 48 hours–what in this country would be considered racial profiling of the worst kind.

ibtimes.co.uk
ibtimes.co.uk

I do not intend any of this to absolve Palestinians from responsibility for murders they commit, for violence enacted on the streets. I do not absolve the Palestinian Authority of incompetence and great dereliction of duty over the decades. And of course, Israeli lives matter.

But I do know who still has the upper hand.

Yet I fear for Israel. To live in the constant state of fear is to invite ever greater militarization, ever greater extremism. This will not protect the City of Peace, even as it may satisfy the desire for vengeance and some sort of order.

Palestinians people are going this route, I fear, out of desperation; when you see no hope, then despair takes over. They do not have the armaments, however, to take charge. And much of the current violence seems sporadic and disorganized–we are not yet, yet, at a new Intifada.

Israel does have the armaments, including nuclear weapons. It matters how they use their advantages. Sadly, I am not convinced that the current government, nor clearly many of its allies, understand that with great power comes great responsibility.

Until that changes, I expect the City of Peace will feel too much like the City of War.