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Posts Tagged ‘solidarity’

Wars on All Fronts: Why Solidarity Among People of Color Matters

In Decolonization, History, The Revolution on August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

I was in San Pedro Sula when the first bombs from the latest Israeli offensive were dropped onto Gaza. I was already in bed, but my decision to jump into the Facehole kept me thinking.

It was my last night in the city that gave birth to my mother, and where a good deal of our family still lives. And having had the opportunity to experience—if only tangentially and precariously—life in what bourgie whites have dubbed “the most violent city in the world,” I tried to relate what I saw and heard to the news accounts coming out of my MacBook. Before I even had time to process my thoughts on this emotion-ridden trip, I saw (in one of those brief moments of Internet access) a post on my Facebook News Feed from the Electronic Intifada: an unmistakable cloud of dust over buildings in Gaza City. It was, supposedly, the culmination of a series of events that could be traced back to Nakba Day, when two Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It was a culmination of events that brought on a full-scale bombing by one of the world’s most well-equipped military regimes in the world. (As of 2009, Israel’s military was only second to the United States in terms of per capita spending)

It was already almost midnight as I read about it on my smartphone. Gang-based terrorism keeps most of the San Pedro Sula indoors by nightfall, so it was, for a New Yorker like myself, more solemnly dark and quiet than I was used to. I had spent a good part of the past week reflecting on something that has been making headlines for months, but now it felt all-too-real in its complexity: What were the factors that would propel people to flee a narco-run Honduras, risking their lives to avoid a destiny of insecurity, if not death? What was driving this renewed genocidal impulse against Palestinians? And in this latest show of force on a marginalized, Black community in a St. Louis suburb, I’ve been made to wonder again, now from the luxury of my Brooklyn apartment: what does it mean to be an American citizen and a person of color in a time of ongoing wars?


Coming back from Honduras, I didn’t know what to make of the relative lack of non-Arab people of color at the Palestine solidarity marches. Where are the people who came out on May Day to protest the Deporter-in-Chief? Where are the people who made their beautiful voices heard on Union Square—and in the spontaneous follow-up march—the day after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted last summer? Likewise, are the Arab youth who made their way to the United Nations some weeks ago also seeing an image of their brethren in the Brown children being deported at the border, or the unarmed Black youth gratuitously shot multiple times by hyper-armed, racist police?

This brings me to the point of this exercise: Solidarity. Lately, the most inspiring, hope filled moments in this time of War—in Gaza, in urban America, in the borderlands—have been during the courageous displays of crucial love and support, even when these displays were no more than symbolic. It has been demonstrated in protest signs, joint letters (examples: here and here), and countless alliances; here, too, social media seems to have played a role in at least making them more visible (if not also helping facilitate the exchanges).

So having, like many of my friends, absorbed most of my news media through my Facebook and Twitter accounts, my online Walls have forced me to home in on the linkages between the issues that matter to me. While we’re often inured into parsing issues by region (e.g. the Middle East, urban America, the Southwest), exhibitions of solidarity also have the potential to break down the dictatorial walls of rigid disciplinarity and news-mandated regionalism, and help us see common ground and common goals. After all, as frustrating as it is for me to choose between a march for affordable housing in Manhattan, and a concurrent march for Palestine in Brooklyn, or between a bus trip to Ferguson and a bus trip to Nogales, having to ghettoize the world’s problems the way we do our cities strikes me as counter-revolutionary. (This is not to argue in defense of large mobilizations versus smaller formations, but, rather, that when we make our way to our respective marches and rallies, we should have the plight of others in our heart as well)

Our data-drenched world also has the potential to facilitate a broader, more critical understanding of what has long been intuitively felt: the same multinational corporations, like Elbit Systems or Caterpillar, will be as involved in the destruction of communities at the US-Mexico border as they are in the construction of Israeli settlements and separation barriers that torment Palestinians in the West Bank. The back-and-forth exchange in surveillance and “defense” technologies, as well as policing tactics, between the states of Israel and the United States will end up producing analogous outcomes against Black and Brown people around the world. The flip side of this liberalized exchange, however, is the accessible, live action sharing of information between peoples struggling for liberation, as was seen in the Tweet suggestions between protestors in Palestine and Missouri, both of whom have faced the tear gas canisters manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc.

Shedding light on the crucial linkages between mass incarceration, militarized policing, immigration politics and the War on Terror is not merely an ideological exercise—it is a necessary part of the struggle for liberation. As the error-prone militant groups from the early ’70s themselves realized, tracing out the different ways in which oppressive neo-colonial logics and technologies work to ‘divide and conquer’ is part of the ongoing work against capitalist white supremacy. And so I put myself to work researching  three battleground areas: Gaza, criminalized/gentrified America, and the US-Mexico border.

And then the political economy crept back in again. I realized these issues, while rising in prominence in the last decade, had common roots in the 1980s—the same period most commonly attributed with the rise of global neoliberalism.

As made evident in David Harvey’s iconic A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the decade saw: the roll-back of the welfare state; the growth of austerity programs locally and abroad; the pummeling of poor (er, colonized and robbed) economies; the rise of civil wars in Central America and the concomitant migrant refugee crisis; the crack “epidemic” and the rise of the War on Drugs (and with it, the beginning of the rise of mass incarceration); and, lastly, the beginning of the first Intifada.

Recognizing the perverse capitalist incentives that enable for these common oppressions, and tracing the genealogies of colonial thought that make themselves manifest in the undying quest to destroy the livelihoods of people of color, one comes to see that solidarity is not only useful—it is essential. And resistance is not simply justified—if we are to survive, it is mandatory. That protestors in Ferguson and Gaza need even supply a rationale—that resistance under occupation is justified—already speaks to the heavy hand the State exerts in the colonized mind.

In speaking about solidarity with Palestine (or about child migrants or the gunning of black youth, for that matter), it’s not enough to talk about “humanitarian crises” and the condescending “poor people” of Gaza. This dispels actions abroad as something that is out there, when the reality is that they are just as much in here. If there is a message I would like to emphasize above all others, it is that this is not a “Middle Eastern conflict”—this is (for those of us in the United States, but also everywhere) just as much about us, and our complicity as purveyors of genocide, as it is about the people who are resisting.

And in directing this message particularly to the people of color of the United States (“people of color” being as problematic a phrase as any, but being useful in this context), the intent should be clear: a failure to show solidarity among ourselves is not merely a tactical error. It’ll be a perpetuation of the colonial divide and conquer strategy that killed off my ancestors in the Native American Holocaust. The tired ol’ adage of people not knowing their history will be ever more real in this context.

 

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Whose Day? Our Day!

In Class Politics, History, Identity Politics, The Revolution on April 30, 2013 at 10:30 PM

It’s May Day, or International Worker’s Solidarity Day. If you are reading this in the U.S. and are currently employed, you’re likely not observing this historical day due to some forfeiture by the corporate state. Instead, if you’re “off” today, it is likely because you called in sick, used a personal day, lied to your boss, etc., all of which are ploys and tactics to get around your typical work-slave drudgery.

This year, I join rank with the millions who are jobless or underemployed. And given my various ailments pertaining to meandering medical treatments and relentless chronic pain—problems which I attribute to this country’s for-profit medical-industrial complex, the pollution of our planet, and the crude misinformation that is presented in our media—I still plan on marching on May Day. If there’s anything I’ve learned, May Day is the closest thing to a well-acknowledged global event where the issues that affect us all—workers, students, immigrants, the incarcerated—have some presence in the explosion that has yet to reach its fruition. That is, May Day is a day of possibilities, a day to unshackle ourselves from the servitude for which we’ve been pummeled into accepting, a day to create a world we say is possible. As the son of immigrants, I don’t need a lesson on the global consequences of our ‘postmodern’ neoliberal order, where 1% of the world owns 40% of its wealth. As a working-poor queer Latino, I don’t need to be told how identity politics converge with material politics to oppress my people. As someone with chronic conditions emanating from the abuses of industrialized society (our so-called civilization), I don’t need a lesson on environmental degradation or the threats to our physical survival. What I need is solidarity from the people who claim to be comrades in the struggle for our freedom. What I need is empathy from the people who claim to care.

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Heavily promoted poster in Seattle comparing May Day 2012 with the memorable rioting against neoliberal globalization during the 1999 WTO conference.

For me, May Day is a day that has folded within itself the plentiful struggles and hopes that come from a people dying to be free. My first experience with May Day was back in 2006—the year anti-immigrant legislation was being considered before Congress (H.R. 4437). I was a senior in high school at the time and, as I was making my way home from school that day, I noticed the large procession marching down Broadway, with many signs in support of just immigration reform or against anti-immigrant sentiment. I had only recently opened my eyes to the possibility of community organizing, so I stuck, watching as an onlooker. In the years to come, I saw May Day as another chance to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights issues with fellow comrades doing work in that amorphous realm of “social justice”—a phrase that I’ve come to be more critical of as I delved deeper into the euphemistically categorized “grassroots” “non-profits.” It was only this previous year—in preparing for May Day 2012—that I began to truly research and understand the holiday’s radical origins.

I won’t bother to give details about a day that has been historicized and romanticized enough. Suffice it to be said that a celebration of workers’ solidarity on May 1st came out of several decades’ worth of unionization efforts around the world. What we gently call the “Haymarket Affair” (yet another example of de-radicalization in North American history books) was actually a massacre and pinnacle event stemming from a long history of labor resistance against capital. Preceding the massacre, the American Federation of Labor had adopted a resolution in favor of an eight-hour work day with May 1st, 1886 as their deadline.

Tens of thousands of people took the streets that day, risking their jobs as they fought for this now-commonly-accepted (and continually abused) labor condition. Despite the lack of support by local media, the fervor over a worker’s revolt took hold in Chicago, where labor conditions (including the infamous meatpacking factories) were worse than in other cities. On May 4th, after consecutive days of mobilization, people rallied in front of the McCormick Reaper Works factory near Haymarket Square; there, while police attempted to dismiss a peacefully assembled crowd, a bomb and several police guns went off. Revolutionary anarchist leaders, including August Spies and Albert Parsons (whose roles in the bombing are still debated), were sentenced to death and essentially martyred in the eyes of the labor movement.  In the following years and decades, anarchists, socialists, and communists alike chose May 1st to both honor the anarchist leaders murdered by the amerikan state as well as to commemorate the ongoing fight against capitalist hegemony.

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Before marchers even arrive, police are all “prepared” (and lined up) by Wall St and Broadway

My initial associations with May Day were issues relevant to immigrant justice. Years later, I’ve come to see May Day as being a day for workers, a day for students, a day for the chronically disabled or unemployed. Whether the “turn out” is as high as it was last year is unlikely—but we should also question our understanding of success, if it is defined by numbers, when we are challenging basic capitalist assumptions. This is one year in which I wasn’t actively involved in preparing for May Day events, and having become recently unemployed, I can’t say what resonance this particular May Day will have for me. Regardless, I know there’ll be something in the air as I try to reconcile the different meanings of solidarity. What does it mean for a single Latina mother to join with a white male activist? Or when professional organizers join with unpaid anarchists? Or when we try to assemble such seemingly disparate issues as the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline and the efforts to end stop-and-frisk and police terrorism?

I guess there’s only one way to find out: on the streets.

Kristin Richardson Jordan

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