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Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Silence As Complicity

In The Revolution on February 19, 2013 at 4:30 AM

Audre Lorde_Your silence will not protect you

Audre Lorde was a black feminist lesbian poet, writer, activist, warrior. Nearly 80 years after her birth, her words continue to resonate with those of us who are surviving intersecting oppressions. And her simple, powerful words on silence are also shared by a community of scholars, thinkers, and freedom fighters. Below I’ve listed other quotes that offer a basic, primal message: silence is complicity. Neutrality is complicity. To speak out against injustice is a moral imperative.

Martin Luther King Jr. As Prisoner

Despite systematic efforts to sanitize and depoliticize U.S. history, to obliterate a history of mass genocide, slavery, and exploitation, freedom fighters in this country hardly ever succeeded without confronting the defenders of the status quo. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a veritable freedom fighter who realized that silence is a form of complicity.

Various quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“A time comes when silence is betrayal”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Silence = Death

Famous ACT UP slogan against the silence surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s/’90s

“[T]here is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world–by a teacher, a writer, anyone–is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts, omitted, are not important.”

– Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

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“Academicians, politicians, all the people  that are supposed to be guiding this country say you’ve got to be neutral. As soon as I started looking at that word neutral and what it meant, it became very obvious to me there can be no such thing as neutrality. It’s a code word for the existing system…. Neutrality is just following the crowd. Neutrality is just being what the system asks us to be. Neutrality, in other words, was an immoral act.”

Myles Horton, co-founder of the Highlander Folk School, an incubator for the formation of the U.S. civil rights movement

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“Lying is done with words, and also with silence.”

– Adrienne Rich, feminist and activist

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“At times to be silent is to lie. You will win because you have enough brute force. But you will notconvince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right.”

– Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish novelist and philosopher

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“We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity”

– From the Revolutionary Proclamation of the Junta Tuitiva, La Paz (July 16, 1809); quoted by Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America

Silence is a war crime

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On Non-Violent Direct Action: We Ain’t Gonna Take It No More!

In History, The Revolution on February 11, 2013 at 3:44 AM

Following my previous post on struggle and acceptance, I came across the following bits of writings from the late historian and activist, Howard Zinn. My attitudes around non-violence are too nuanced to be addressed here (let it be noted that I see the relevance of a diversity of tactics, the importance of context, and the importance of self-defense). Nevertheless, I am intrigued by his recognition of ‘acceptance’ and ‘resignation’ as possibilities within a spectrum of human reaction, although he rejects these in favor of direct action.

In an article entitled “Non-violent Direct Action,” he writes:

“The health of society, I assume, is dependent on a balance between people’s expectations and the fulfillment of those expectations. Both the Buddhism of Gautama in the East and the Stoicism of Epictetus in the West in their emphasis on resignation as a means to happiness were fitted to the limits of a crude technology. Today the momentum of science has created worldwide waves of demand which can be fulfilled. Quiescence and resignation are no longer pertinent, and the clamor everywhere for change, though expressed in passion, is reasonable.” [italics my own]

HowardZinnquote

Elsewhere, in his book Declarations of Independence, he writes:

“Too many of the official tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr., have piously praised his nonviolence, the praise often coming from political leaders who themselves have committed violence against other nations and have accepted the daily violence of poverty in American life. But King’s phrase, and that of the southern civil rights movement, was not simply “nonviolence,” but nonviolent direct action.

In this way, nonviolence does not mean acceptance, but resistance – not waiting, but acting. It is not at all passive. It involves strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation, mass demonstrations, and sabotage, as well as appeals to the conscience of the world, even to individuals in the oppressing group who might break away from their past.” [italics my own]

What is crucial here is the deliberateness of collective defiance, the earnest will to contest a heinous status quo in a world where technological advances have obliterated a need for poverty and scarcity. Examining the present situation, where 1% of the global population owns 40% of the world’s wealth, technologies have been appropriated by capitalist enterprise for the pursuit of profit rather than for the promotion of social well-being and genuine freedom. But just as Marx predicted a dialectical friction between the forces of production and the relations of production, the global Information Age has wrought a tool that the world’s oppressed can use against its oppressors: the *free* forum of the Internet.

It is through such technological advantage that I’m able to express my dissent, learn about the meetings and actions of compas and comrades, and become an active contributor to a knowledge production that brings us closer to liberation. Although I’ve reconciled my cognitive dissonance between struggle and acceptance by realizing the contextual applicability of both, I nevertheless find Zinn’s words quite prescient: if there is no need to resign, if we have the means to distribute the world’s basic resources to all alive, why not oblige with our moral prerogative towards justice and take action? Why not recognize our inherent humanity and our innate right to share in the fruits of our labor?

Just as we cannot be neutral on a moving train, we cannot afford to be silent about the injustices of a markedly unequal, unfree world. If we are to take a Marxist spin on the state of today’s revolutionary movements, we can very reasonably argue that capitalism has created the very tools of its own destruction: the largely unmanageable, horizontal communication streams afforded by online social networking . Of course, our enemies will still hound us, surveil us, use the technologies that are at their disposal. But we also have the right to take back what is rightfully ours.

Taking action. Never resigning. Never accepting a status quo that we, as humans, created. Never failing to lose sight of who we are and what we can become.

And so we move forward in our march to liberation–alone or together, through collective struggles and personal resistances. Always p’alante, siempre p’alante. 

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