Tag Archives: Solidarity

Reflections from My Time at Standing Rock

I did not journey across the country to learn anything, I ventured to stand in solidarity with our Native relatives, but while I was at Standing Rock in the Oceti Sakowin Camp, I was taught and learned much. One of the first things I learned was how vast the camp is. I do not know what I thought I would see, but I was not expecting to see an entire valley filled with tents, tepees, campers, vehicles and people. I have been part of many demonstrations in opposition to unjust exploitation of peoples and planet, but I have never been part of anything like Standing Rock. There were thousands of people from all over the world, many of whom were represented on Flag Road, which seemed to go on forever identifying all the nations and peoples in solidarity with Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), which is the “proper name for the people commonly known as Sioux.” What I witnessed is that a shift is underway the likes of which we have not experienced since the time of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) and the American Indian Movement (AIM), when the oppressed peoples from all over the world are uniting in a common cause: to end the harmful exploitation of our peoples and planet, and caring for our world and peoples in such a way that ten generations from now our descendants will inherit a healthy and vibrant world to share. And yet however much a shift in culture is neither without opposition or complications, it is nonetheless beautiful to see coming into fruition.

This level of unity among the oppressed peoples must be terrifying to the repressive state regime because it is losing its legitimacy and control, and people are losing faith in this state’s ability to manage our world. This is evinced by the harmful and repressive actions the state has engaged in to retain its control of the people and the situation. The state has enacted counterinsurgency tactics and technology against its own people in the worst of ways. From the targeted arresting of people, to the excessive use of lethal force, to the eviction of peoples from their lands, to the complete disregard of humanity of indigenous peoples and people of color; the entire operation is laden with human rights violations. The right to peaceably assemble and to the freedom of religion are not only guaranteed by the US Constitution (First Amendment), but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18; Article 19; Article 20). Furthermore, Article 9, of the UNDHR states that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.” Article 5, of the UNDHR, says that no one shall be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; which should entail being sprayed with water from fire hoses when it is twenty degrees outside, or shot in the head with rubber bullets for praying on your own lands. Not that it needs to be mentioned, but in case people have forgotten, cruel and unusual punishment is also protected against by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Using intimidation and legalized terrorism is not managing, it is tyranny and it is out of control. The problem lies in the reality that this sort of behavior has been normalized in the United States when the state is interacting with indigenous peoples, people of color, and active political dissent from the harmful practices of this state and its agents. However, the oppressed peoples are uniting as the legitimacy of the state is faultering and we are being joined by those who are also losing faith in the motivations the state and the results of its decisions.

Oceti Sakowin Camp is a prayer ceremony on treaty land (Treaty of Fort Laramie 1868), that is, the land the camp is on and where Energy Transfer Partners LP is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) belongs to Oceti Sakowin. First, if someone were to come into your or my home and start destroying things, especially that which our ancestors or predecessors left to us, we would most likely stand in physical opposition to the intrusion and destruction, and we would be well within our rights to do so. It is a twisted way of thinking about development and progress—the doctrine of Manifest Destiny—that informs people’s perception that the manner in which our Native relatives have chosen to be stewards of the land is neither efficient nor correct. Notwithstanding that false perception, this land belongs to Oceti Sakowin and the infringement into their land is no different than an intrusion into our homes. Thus, when physical opposition has occurred, the people who engaged in these acts have been completely and entirely justified in doing such. In fact, the actual motivation and justification for the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was to protect against the arbitrary and tyrannical abuses of power by the state over the people. The fact that it mentions weapons only provides one of the means by which this may or should be accomplished. The spirit of the amendment is that state repression of free and equal peoples is not to be tolerated when the repression is unjust. Yet, while that is not only the law and the right of the people, the state, the corporations, and the media has sought to villainize and make illegitimate the actions of Water Protectors, as if they believe something else, or would have behaved differently should this have happened to their homes and their families. Painting with a broad stroke the entire camp and opposition movement as riotous villains in an attempt to discredit Oceti Sakowin and gain legitimacy for state tyranny, is wrong and unaccountable to the Amerikan people and the people of the world. And yet however justified physical opposition is, the majority of the opposition, and the vast majority of the people at Standing Rock are in prayer, and have been for most of the time the camp has existed.

Every morning before sunrise, a water ceremony occurs that is usually led by elders who are women. The people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are called to the Sacred Fire to participate in the ceremony as the people first ask to commune with the Creator, before asking the Creator to protect the headwaters of the Midwest. Many people from Amerika are not familiar with prayer in the form of song and dance because many of us come from a Judeo-Christian background, and so, it may not be immediately recognized that a prayer ceremony is occurring, but that does not alter the immense power that is felt participating after being invited into one of the ceremonies. From the Sacred Fire after the initial prayers are completed, the people are led to the water (Cannon Ball River) to bless and pray for the water that heals our bodies and our souls. As the sun rises we are standing on the shores of the waters giving thanks for the resource and element that provides so much for us and all that lives on the planet we share. Starting the day in a thankful spirit of gratitude for a precious and limited resource has the impact of directing our whole day and shifted my thoughts from what I need to take for myself and instead focused them on what I have to offer.

The time I spent at Oceti Sakowin Camp led me to re-conceptualize my perception of direct action, even as a seasoned activist. Often direct action is referred to as a demonstration. For example, when a Black Lives Matter protest occurs on Black Friday, in any city, challenging the very institutions of capitalistic economy that buttresses and profits from the prison industrial complex and by extension the brutality of police, and the school to prison pipeline; the objective is to interrupt. Wherein there may be lockdowns, blocked traffic, or interruptions of broadcasts. However, at Oceti Sakowin, when the people leave camp to any location, it is in prayer just like the morning Water Ceremony. The prayers are not discriminatory, but universal, which means that the people are praying for the health of the water not only for Oceti Sakowin, but also those part of the repressive state regime spraying Water Protectors with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather. Behaviors with these motivations in other settings have often been referred to as acts of unconditional love and brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement of the Black Liberation Era. I know many of the stories, but have not exactly been able to bring myself to love those I have seen and felt as my enemies as they continued to harm me and my peoples.

Growing up, I was racially profiled by police more times than I can count or even remember, but a few situations stand out. I was pulled over for nothing besides driving while Black and when the cop could find nothing else to charge me with, not a tail light, not a failed signal, not an invalid license, he placed some sort of light detector on my tinted windows to try to find anything to justify his harassment of me. Another account was when my father called the police because some of our neighbors were threatening to kill my brother and I when we were eight and nine, respectively, and when the police came they arrested my father. I can remember walking home from high school with my book bag, only to have a cop car jump the curb and come to a screeching halt in front of me, before slamming me against a wall and searching through my school books, only to find school books. And one night when I was walking down the sidewalk, two plain clothes cops simply decided not to identify themselves, and instead to beat me almost to death before hauling me off to jail for absolutely nothing. I was never even apologized to or given bus fare home, but was released from their custody to walk miles home at three-thirty in the morning in the middle of winter. I recount these personal experiences now only to evince that my hatred for the institution of police is not only systemic, but also personal. When we arrived at the camp we were asked to set these feelings aside and to pray for the police, the army, the militias, and the mercenaries suppressing the people at Standing Rock. This was difficult for me, as it was for many others, too. Then I heard a report about one of the leaders of the International Indigenous Youth Council, speaking directly to how the people interact with the police during a prayer ceremony;

It is our duty not to dehumanize others, as we seek to establish our own humanity.

What I learned from this is that I am no better if I create the same trauma that I am seeking to overcome. I cannot become my enemy and still expect to overcome the oppression I suffer from my enemy. The means must be consistent with the ends, if the ends are to be just.

So, while the people at Standing Rock are completely justified in mounting an armed resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the suppressive agents using counterinsurgency tactics against the people, they are in fact, praying for all of us. I have never experienced this amount of love and forgiveness. I have read about and studied it, I have heard stories from the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, but I have never felt it. This is the spirit of the people that our government has permitted helicopters and planes to fly over the camp surveilling and is suspected of spraying chemicals on, all day and night. This is the spirit of the people that the government is utilizing cell phone suppression and corruption technology upon. This is the spirit of the people that the government is throwing concussion grenades at, shooting in the head with rubber bullets, unleashing the Long Range Sound Device, the LRAD sound cannon—the same technology used in Ferguson after the execution of Michael Brown—on, and spraying with water from fire hoses in twenty degree weather at; all of which are prefaced as non-lethal instruments, but when applied together and in the conditions they were used, are all individually lethal and are especially so in conjunction with one another. The state has been arresting, imprisoning, and nearly killing people for praying, and on their own lands no less.

The state is a force to be reckoned with, many of us now this acutely and personally well from first or second-hand experiences, and it must be confronted and challenged. There are also other complications that can and do often emerge when people who have been oppressed unite among themselves, and when the oppressed people unite with people who are from privileged classes. It is not the issues so much as how they are addressed that is truly important. At Oceti Sakowin Camp there was a lot of very positive and encouraging work being done to overcome much of this while simultaneously challenging neo-liberalism, capitalism, and state repression.

During orientation at Oceti Sakowin Camp on my first morning there we were told that we should not have come to learn, or to take anything because that is a continuation of the colonial apparatus. Yet, still, because so many people flooded into the camp over ‘Thanksgiving’ week, who were honestly concerned about what is and has been happening at Standing Rock, who were by no means prepared enough in a socially conscious manner for the work ahead, some instruction was necessary. I am a photographer and this has been a major component of the liberation work I have engaged in over the years. I am also a historian and a philosopher, and the three of these skills combined help me tell stories as objectively as possible.

(My cameras were stolen from me by the police in Bismarck when I participated in a prayer circle and was unjustly abducted and duhumanized, so I do not have images to share at this time.)

During the orientation, the proctors mentioned that the act of taking a picture “take, take, take” is an act of colonization, which is all about the extraction of people, land, and resources. This was used as an analogy to expecting to have time with Native elders who could “tell the history correctly” because people had “come to learn the truth” from the people most impacted. Not realizing that the imposition of time, from primarily white folx, was another act of colonization playing itself out, many had rushed to the elders. Many people had also been walking through camp with their cameras out, snapping shots of people in front of their teepees, which is no different than standing on someone’s lawn and pointing a camera into their home; taking, extracting, and feeling ‘entitled’ to do so. This colonialist imperative of take all you can for yourself, this capitalist motif is precisely what the people at Oceti Sakowin Camp are opposed to. It is this colonialist imperative and capitalist motif that Energy Transfer Partners are operating under; and they are precisely what underlies the exploitation and degradation of the planet through the burning of fossil fuels. Cultural appropriation, is stealing, it is taking without permission or understanding. We were informed that this was a camp of giving and of self-sacrifice for the common good, for the rest of humanity and all the creatures we share the world with. Thus, many of our beliefs and practices that people came to camp with needed to be unlearned and ceased because they are components of the very things that brought us to Oceti Sakowin in the first place and what we are working to overcome and evolve beyond.

Oceti Sakowin camp embodies the way of life that many of us are aspiring towards. A world in which the first thought is how I can fulfill the needs of others around me, instead of the first thought being how I can take care of my own needs by extracting things from others.

Living among the people at Standing Rock I learned that I do not need everything I think I need in order to not only survive, but to thrive healthily and to be happy.

When everyone is giving, then there is no lack. There is no need to be fearful that the things we actually ‘need’ will not be provided. This social organization is so completely contradictory to anything that most of us within the borders of Amerika are familiar with that it almost seems impossible because of how we have been indoctrinated to think and feel, but it works well. Not only is it liberating, but it is efficient and limits the amount of waste our society tends to produce and accumulate.

Many of our people suffer from forms of historical trauma, especially people of color, or are the beneficiaries of a long line of privileges gained from historical traumas, such as men and white folx, or both, and so the work to unpack, unlearn, and heal continues. These are deep emotional and intellectual processes. As such, they are not easily overcome. In fact, we tend to bring these things with us even when we are working to remedy human rights violations and to alter harmful practices. Unfortunately, there were more than a handful of events and occurrences from which to draw examples from at Oceti Sakowin camp. Notwithstanding that, and although it was problematic that a lot of misinformed, or uninformed, well-intentioned white folx poured into the camp during the week of Thanksgiving; it was nonetheless inspiring, to see so many people who are beginning to wake up and see our state of affairs for what it truly is. That being said, there is no doubt that a lot of emotional labor was unduly placed upon our hosts and other people of color to inform, correct, and instruct a lot of the people who simply did not understand things like, it is not cool just to walk up and touch someone else’s hair because you think it is fascinating. That is entitlement plain and simple, and it is an extension and an expression of colonization, one of the very things the people in the camp and elsewhere are working diligently to overcome.

Entering into another person’s personal space, and especially touching their body without prior consent because of either an implicit or explicit belief that you are entitled to do so (and this includes rape and rape culture) is a colonial and patriarchal act. Consent is vitally important to healthy relationships. Firstly, consent signifies that there is respect between two parties and an acknowledgement of both their humanity and their agency.

The Dakota Access Pipeline that Energy Transfer Partners is placing in the ground without the consent of Oceti Sakowin, is an act of colonization.

They have come into Oceti Sakowin lands, desecrated their ancestral burial grounds, and threaten to poison both the land and the headwaters with faulty technology that in addition, will also promote the distribution of CO2 from the burning of the oil, thus exacerbating the rate of climate change and the destruction of our environment. None of these outcomes are desirable to Oceti Sakowin, which is why they have gathered in opposition and put the call out for many forms of support. The Army Corps of Engineers, and Energy Transfer Partners have failed to respect the humanity and the agency of the peoples from Standing Rock, and by corollary the rest of us. The reason that so many in our society, and even among those who journeyed to Standing Rock to stand and work in solidarity, embodied and acted through this colonial lens is because that is what we have been indoctrinated with. Most do not understand that these every day, seemingly minor expressions are what permit the larger, more broadly impacting expressions to exist and persist.  Although, it is true that these things will not be overcome in a day, and that it should not be the responsibility of those who have already been harmed so much by this system and society of injustice to emotionally labor with those who still harbor, whether knowingly or not, colonial and patriarchal prejudices, ideologies, and beliefs, they must be continuously worked on; simultaneously within the system and within ourselves.

More than anything else, what I felt most while I was at Oceti Sakowin Camp, from the people at the camp, was love. What I felt from the people in North Dakota who opposed the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline was sheer hatred and anathema. When I was abducted by the police in a most violent and unjust manner while the people were praying for protection of our water, the bystanders denied our humanity in a manner of which I have never felt in my life. I was accosted by a woman who stared me directly in my eyes as I lay hog-tied on the ground in agonizing pain, when she proclaimed;

“Prison food is horrible. The way they treat you in prison is horrible. I hope you enjoy it there. You are getting everything you deserve.”

This was said moments before a chant for “blue lives matter,” then a chant stating “oil is life” began.  At this very moment, without restraint or regard for the welfare of people, the police were chasing unarmed, unthreatening, escaping, and innocent people tackling them like linebackers from the San Francisco 49ers, slamming them into walls and doors indiscriminately; merely selecting people of color they thought might have been involved in the prayer.

In stark opposition, as was mentioned above, much of the spirit of the people in the camp was along the lines of not dehumanizing as we all sought to establish and assert our own humanity. There was much forgiveness and grace, but more importantly, there was love. Criticism, when it is done constructively, and with the intention of improving the relations between relatives, is an act of kindness and love. I suppose that is why when that woman looked at me with such disdain, and spoke to me as if I was not a human being, that I did not become angry at her or her actions, but instead, I felt pity and sadness, and began to pray for her. Ironically, and quite contradictory to my previous sentiment, I also prayed for the police officers as I prayed for our water, our people, and our collective future.

I am still not a fan of and am starkly in opposition to the police institution as it exists, the militarization of local law enforcement all over the country, the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, the counterinsurgency against social movements to achieve justice and equity, but something definitely shifted in me during my time at Standing Rock.

Although, most of us who made the journey did not do so to learn or take anything home with us, I do not think it is possible for a person whose heart is open to spend time at Oceti Sakowin camp and not return home affected in some positive manner.

Many know that we need a new and redesigned legal and political system, which includes a new economic structure. However, more and more are coming to believe that the actual shift must occur on a spiritual level and must spread naturally among us as if it were a scent on the breeze that we all become aware of. A spiritual transition is not something that can or will be motivated by force, it is more about attraction than promotion or proselytizing. It is slower, but much longer lasting.

When this manifests, then many of the officers, militias, and military personnel who, because of the authoritative structure and plausible deniability who feel secure in participating in human rights violations, may begin not to silence their consciences and moral aptitudes any longer, and may begin to question the unchallenged consent to execute unjust orders against innocent human beings. If it truly manifested, then those institutions would no longer be necessary. The state will continue to issue orders, but the people will cease to follow them or step down all together. To be balanced, it has often been argued that the people in these positions lack consciences and that appealing to them is doom to failure, disillusionment, and further repression. That has more often than not been the case, so this perspective is completely rational. I have stood with my people in front of a line of cops screaming until we had no voices left dropping facts about the institution’s dehumanizing and brutal actions only to be beaten and unjustly arrested; and nothing seemed to change afterward. So, I have seen it with my own eyes. Yet, there are cops leaving the force all over the country because the brutal suppression of innocent people is not what they signed up for, and police departments have made public statements in direct opposition to the Trump policy of racially profiling people to inspect their citizenship documentation. Small steps to be certain, but it is evidence that a shift is also beginning to occur there as well. Like the Veterans who also journeyed to Standing Rock and participated in a major apology ceremony for their participation in the brutal suppression of indigenous peoples and made the declaration to oppose the practice. The indoctrination of lies and division that has sprung forth from Amerikan capitalism and imperialism is being torn apart and delegitimized.

Bernard LaFayette, the organizer from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who went to Selma Alabama and began the voter registration campaign there, also believed in and practiced seeing the humanity of our oppressors. There is a certain healing power in it, and it is also pointing toward a future when we see and feel more points of unity than division and difference among us. It is my belief that this shift in cultural understanding is well under way and is spreading. I felt more than the embers of this at Standing Rock, with people from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, with all kinds of stories all standing in unity under the leadership of the most impacted by this system, our Indigenous relatives. We all have much healing and growth ahead of us, and the state is ramping up its repressive regime, but it is inspiring to have witnessed and been party to the cultural shift of resistance that is underway, not only at Standing Rock, but all over the world.

#WaterIsLife

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#GOPHANDSOFFME

As an American Citizen I am disgusted and appalled by whom this society has selected as potential formal leaders of our country.

As a Black Man I am insulted and angered because there could be no more flagrant a display of rampant hatred for the people who have been minoritized, marginalized, and pushed to the side in this society, than the so-called ‘leaders’ we are now presented with.

As a Human Being I am ashamed and infuriated that a man who blatantly and openly disregards and dehumanizes half of our species could even be mentioned in the same statement as a person who represents the people.

I stand in solidarity with our sisters, mothers, daughters, aunties, and grandmothers.

To be certain, I am not with the Clinton camp, there has been far too much harm done to Black and Brown communities to ever forgive; families disparaged and torn apart; trade agreements that have led impoverished people of color worldwide to suffer; the prison industrial complex…

However, I am diametrically opposed to Trump becoming president of the United States! It sickens me to my stomach and wrenches my soul that there are enough people in this society who have espoused and endorsed his views and behaviors to even permit him a chance at the presidency. America has not come quite so far as it likes to pride itself on.

What I and you both know is that the office of president is not synonymous with leader, and certainly not leader of the people. The people are the government. The people are the leaders. Nothing happens without our say-so. This is why, all of us, whether we have the right to vote or not, must stand in opposition against this tyranny and declare

#NotOneMore
#BlackLivesMatter
#BlackPower #BrownPride
#Liberation
#gopHandsOffMe

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

https://www.facebook.com/events/630232453828500/

This is Something We Do Together or It Doesn’t Get Done

What we do, we do together

If one person wins a battle, then they win it, but only for themselves

But if a person claims that they have won a battle by themselves, then they are mistaken

Because they have forgotten all that have gone before them

And all who have stood beside them

And all those who will come after

We are not after another individualistic ideology

The likes of which has turned us against our own families

Put us into competition with our Friends

Set us at odds with our neighbors

Severed the ties we have to our heritage

Destroyed our relationship with the earth

and indoctrinates us to seek only the betterment of ourselves

The harms that we have risen up against

Reach deep into the fibers of our beings

Is woven through the very fabric of our society

Through Police Brutality, and Mass Incarceration

Red Lining and Bank Foreclosures

Economic Sanctions, Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws

Zero Tolerance in Schools, dilapidated buildings

The Denial of Financial Aid, Public Food Assistance, Medical and Mental Health Services

The School to Prison Pipeline

Outsourcing, GMO non-labeling, CEO Corporate Spending and Bailouts

That reward White Collar Crime and permit shots fired into the backs

of young blacks who are suspected of stealing a couple bottles of beer in the capital of WA State

It’s a sick state of affairs when property has more value than a person’s life

When society teaches us that we live in a vacuum

that by our bootstraps are the only we can pull ourselves out of this pit of bitter morass

We have somehow worked ourselves into

Like we chose the neighborhoods to which we were born into

We are taught that it is only by our own doing, that no one will help, that we do not deserve any one’s help and that if we can’t it is because we are lazy, dumb, genetically inferior to

and Essentially that we are all alone

When in reality, we can do nothing alone

We would not even be able to utter the word alone had someone not taught it to us

We would not know the first thing about commerce or morality if someone had not taught it to us

There would be no society, social advocacy, civilization or cities if we did things alone

We are neither impacted alone, nor will we win alone

Groups are marginalized because of their affiliation with that group

Stop & Frisk targeted people of color disproportionately

not because of their individual identities but rather because of the color of their skin

People only throw out the claim of individuality when it suits their purposes to do so

That is genocidal in nature and by its very definition

America has just been afraid to acknowledge that fact since William James Patterson wrote We Charge Genocide with the help of the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1951

Read that document and you will swear to god that you were reading a news article from last weekend

Emmitt Till all over again, Sandra Bland Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Trevon Martin vigilante violence and the Charleston 9, burning churches, the KKK is making a re-emergence

all to target you and us, the we because they do not see us as individuals

And anytime we run out to challenge the system of racism and white supremacy alone

they kill the one, Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi

But every time we have stood together, and not allowed their terrorism to deter us,

Not allow their prison time, or their economic sanctions, or their political threats

of stripping people off their food assistance like the politician in Baltimore when they rose up in unison against the horrific murder of Freddy Gray

our people have achieved our victories in the struggle for justice

and it is upon their shoulders that we stand today

it is because of their efforts, their sacrifices, and investments into their futures, our presents

that we can stand here today, congregated for the cause of justice and peace

Not that negative peace, wherein we continue to permit injustices and violence

But within the positive peace of tension challenging the system on all fronts together

At times this will put demands on our time, and upon our patients

At others it will only require that we do not turn a blind eye to injustice

That we speak out, or stand on the street with our cameras out to make sure that the police are doing their damned jobs right

Sometimes it means that we will need to invest in the people and the organizations out here doing the work

But no matter what, we do this together, we do this for our people, we do this for the cause of justice

for the love of peace, for an end to war, and hatred and the violence against our people

And the world we seek to create, is not one of individuality, but rather one of community

which respects the beauty of the individuality of each and every single one of us

Treasures each in our own rights

But part of something much greater in the cycle of life

Because none of came into this world alone and of our own volition

We owe it to the rest of us to maintain our community, and to fight for what is right

!!!Black Lives Matter!!!

We will make this call reverberate throughout every institution and gathering place in America until there is no option but for it to become a reality

Women of Color Speak Out: Changing the Climate of Climate Change

This group of strong, dedicated, passionate, intelligent and driven women who have been engaged in the climate justice movement have come together to share their experiences as Women and as Activists.

The audience loved them!

Answering difficult questions and sharing their personal stories of growing up fused with depictions of dealing with stereotypes, racism, sexism and self-doubt, they connected with people in a way that is often hard to achieve. Many people thanked them over and over for having the courage to speak out about the things that they too have also felt, but not had the space or felt safe enough to express their truth.

They were also able to pull together many of the organizations active in the climate justice movement into a unified initiative to expose the truth of so many of our movements for justice, that is, they are being led by women; and that women of color from front-line communities need and should be at the forefront of the movement.

It was a beautiful event and I hear that there is much more to come.

A Beautiful Movement: BlackLivesMatter Seattle

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The beautiful thing about this movement to end police brutality and by corollary to end the system which buttresses mass incarceration is that it has bridged culture, class, nationality, sex, religion, age, gender identification, race, ethnicity, political ideologies, and color. In the marches here in Seattle and around the United States, at any point that you turn around to look at the people putting their bodies on the line to ensure that Civil Rights are achieved you will see someone from any of innumerable walks of life and backgrounds. The beauty of it is that as different as we all are, we all believe that people should be treated fairly and equally.

The Collective

The system of laws that have been written and instituted from the end of 19th Century through the beginning of the 21st Century are crafted in such a way to apply to everyone, but are in practice used to target particular groups of individuals. The People, who gather and march and chant and sing in these marches understand this stark reality and have unanimously declared time and again that this system is not a system of justice. The People, regardless of whether they are black, white, First Nations, Asian, Latino, wealthy or homeless have consistently stood shoulder to shoulder risking arrests and violence to their persons to make sure that black men and women are not being killed and incarcerated and atrocious rates.

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I have personally witnessed people who could be physically identified as white putting their bodies between the police and the people of color who the police were attempting to arrest and harm. I have also witnessed firsthand, allies being sprayed with mace and arrested—this includes a Legal Observer who was there to ensure that the laws were being followed and was a non-combatant who was sprayed with mace—during our marches.

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So, the claims that I have heard distributed that they are not putting their bodies and their liberties on the line, acknowledging their inherent privilege in this system and using that to benefit the cause are simply inaccurate.  Even if you do not notice the arrests happening during the protests that does not mean that they are not occurring. In fact, there have been many occurrences of people being arrested after the protests and marches while they are walking home, and often times on trumped up charges that have nothing to do with the demonstrations themselves.

Earlier this December, I went to the King County Jail for one of our people who was scheduled for a bail hearing after the individual was arrested leaving a march alone. The charge was burglary, but there was not even enough evidence to set bail and the individual was released without bail or charges being filed. The individual was, it seems, arrested just because of their involvement in the demonstration.

This is not meant to be construed to suggest that Black people have not been arrested, maced or flash-bombed because that is not the truth.  In fact, the Seattle Police are notorious for ramming their bikes into people and tackling us to the ground, fighting the whole way as a tactic of arrest and suppression. This has happened to many people of multiple races and ethnicities. My intention in sharing the description of the white people who are being maced and arrested is to show that the people who are standing in solidarity with the Black community are in fact risking their bodies and liberty for us and that needs to be both acknowledged and respected.

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This is nonetheless, a Black led movement and it has to be. Frederic Douglass said in his speech West India Emancipation in New York in 1857: “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” He further said, “The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just.” What this reveals, even from as long ago as the 19th Century is that the struggle for justice and freedom rests squarely with the people who are being oppressed. As Douglas mentions, if those who are oppressed do not stand up for themselves, then no one else will, or should either. That the people who are suffering from an unjust system must stand up for themselves and assert their right to life, if they are to have that right to life. “For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others” says Douglas, before he continues on to say:  “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” Douglas was speaking about slavery in the 19th Century and achieving freedom from that servitude, but his words hold just as much weight and pith today as they did then; if the people are not willing to stand up and make sacrifices for our own freedom and right to life, then we are not worth that freedom and right. This is why the movement has to be Black led and why we must stand for ourselves with others by our side. And this is precisely what we have been doing.

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Courageous people have been organizing and putting their very lives on the line and making the utmost sacrifices to demand our right to life and for justice.  People have made sacrifices of school and work, of safety and life to demand justice and to fight for an equitable system, but to read the comments on many news or reporting feeds or to listen to the people outside of the marches critiquing the protesters’ motives say things like this comment from a KIRO 7 news feed Protest Planned at Pioneer Square During Seahawks Game (12/19/2014): “How many of these not so intelligent protesters are feeding of our tax dollars. They seem to have a lot of time on their hands to protest. But not enough to check there facts. It’s time for them to shut up and get a job!” To listen to and absorb these types of comments, whether in public, on television, the radio, or on the internet one might think that the people in these demonstrations had nothing to lose because we never had anything.

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I could just as easily speak for others as I can speak of myself, but I will take the heat for this explication. I am a senior at the University of Washington double majoring in History (with a focus on empires and post-colonialism) and Philosophy (with a focus in ethics and justice). After completing my undergraduate studies and earning a Bachelor’s Degree I will be earning a Ph. D. in history and a Jurist Doctorate (Law Degree).  With these degrees my plan is to work with the United Nations and to help the organization revise international policy and law so that it is more equitable and just for all. Prior to enrolling at North Seattle Community College, where I was the Treasurer for the Student Government, and earning an Associate of Arts Degree, I was an owner of a construction company in the Pacific Northwest region, which specialized in underground utilities. The contrast the presentation of these facts I am attempting to draw is that the protesters are not ignorant, uneducated and jobless people. My story is not unique. In fact, many if not most people have very similar stories and histories to tell.

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My story contains more. Almost twenty years ago, I got into a lot of trouble in and around Seattle. I have a juvenile record that has been closed, though not expunged. When I was an adolescent I was involved with gangs and got hooked on drugs and as a result of both of these things I committed crime. I grew up in varying degrees of poverty, and even though I believe in agency, it cannot be successfully argued that one’s environment does not shape one’s decisions and opportunities. However, that is not the point, the argument that I am making by stating my history is that when I participate in demonstrations for Civil Rights risking arrests and potential charges, I risk everything I have been working on and for. If I am arrested then that juvenile record will be used as evidence of my character and against me. If that occurs, then I also risk losing the funding for my education, which will directly impact my ability to be a servant for our people, not just in the United States, but globally. (I will be happy to debate the morality of Federal Financial Aid, but this is not the place for it or the reason for bringing it up.)  The point is that most of us are educated and do have jobs and furthermore, as Frederick Douglas said, we are risking everything to fight for our rights and for justice because that is what the struggle requires for progress.

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It is easy to portray the protesters as thugs and criminals, as ignorant and leeches on this society because that makes the message that The People are speaking easier to ignore. It is an attempt to discredit the complaints that The People have with this system and to justify the suppression of the people.

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There are just as many slurs that are tossed out at The People who stand and march in solidarity with Black people and work for a brighter tomorrow with us. The news and much of the public attempts to character assassinate some of these people by calling them Anarchists. And though some of them may be anarchists, not everyone who is at these demonstrations and that is not Black is an anarchist. In fact, there are plenty of Black Anarchists. Secondly, the media and the public attempt to discredit  the demonstrations and the messages being projected from them by arguing that these demonstrations are nothing but white anarchists and who break things and start fights with the police. This may happen, but it is by no means the entire composition of all the demonstrations or any demonstration in particular. On all counts, the reports and accusations against The People participating in these demonstrations is simply inaccurate and often times nothing more than either, misinformation or outright propaganda meant to dilute the messages being disseminated by The People.    Furthermore, as was stated above, these people are putting their bodies and their liberties on the line and have because they believe that this system is unjust.

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Alex Garland Photography http://thedignityvirus.com/2014/12/20/demonstrators-bring-black-lives-matter-protest-to-bellevue-square-mall/

A perfect example of this was at the demonstration at Bellevue Square when a woman with a child who was sitting in the area where The People gathered to sing, joined the demonstration with her young son. The People were singing “Which side are you on my friend, which side are you on? Justice for Mike Brown, is justice for us all” in the center of the mall. After the police, decked out in full riot gear encircled the demonstrators, they made a plea to the white woman from Bellevue, notifying her that they were about to arrest everyone in the demonstration and warning her that she should take her son away before they began. Instead of running away and allowing an unjust action to occur, she grabbed her son and entered into the center of the circle of this peaceful demonstration. It was both heartwarming and inspiring to see that someone who no one knew believed in fighting for justice so much would not conceal even her son from the harsh reality of oppression and suppression.

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Regardless of what the uninformed or misinformed people attempt to present as facts about The People and what the people are doing by marching and protesting, or how they attempt to tear the people apart, it is not having the desired affect. In fact, it is having the opposite affect, it is drawing The People closer together and forcing us to become more organized and strategic. Communities which have been disparate are coming together and forming coalitions and networks, learning how to care for and educated each other and creating lasting relationships. We are tearing down the barriers that society has attempted to raise to keep us separate and we are standing in unity.

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This is a Black led movement because it must be and it is long overdue, but because it is led by Black people does not mean that the people who are not Black are not valuable and necessary participating people in this movement; quite the opposite. It is a beautiful thing to watch so many people, from so many different backgrounds come together all to fight for justice and equality.

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We claim the Right to self-determination.

We claim the Right to define justice.

We claim the Right to liberty.

We claim the Right to live.

Irreconcilable Differences

If it is true, that it is the competition between groups which leads to the discord and hatred between us because we believe we are all different, then if people recognized that we were not a different group all this strife should come to a conclusion.

However, when the first rockets were sent into space and sent back the images of our globe, some solidarity was formed between all of the nations which occupy our planet. Yet, that was a fleeting moment in time and easily forgotten.

I almost hate to say it, but what has been proven to work in binding and forming cohesive bonds in smaller groups is presenting them with a common problem or enemy and putting them in a situation where they have to work together to solve the problem.

Extrapolating this concept to the entire planet with all of our varied nations, I have surmised, rather comically, that the only common enemy which could bind us all together is an Alien Invasion. (I only half-joke)

We do however, have a common problem that will take the effort of everyone on the planet to solve. We are just beginning to feel the negative effects of this problem and it has not become so paramount that we as a civilization set aside our differences to face it, yet. That horizon is fast approaching.

These are some of the people culling the information necessary to face this challenge and building the infrastructure when that horizon is at last breeched and we as a civilization are forced to stand in solidarity, or disappear from the history of Earth forever.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/421343494629073/?ref=br_tf