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Silence Broken: Revolution Ain't Cute
There is something ugly and familiar about the beginning of 2009 -- the death, the violence and suffering. This year, ushered in with a somber cadence, saw only momentary rests between emerging crises. There was no relief as our attention turned from Gaza to Oscar Grant, Adolph Grimes to Robert Tolan. A friend dies. On top of all this is our ongoing, collective struggle with joblessness.
Then there is all the news of tragedy that we will never hear. We try to stay abreast through Twitter, Facebook posts and blogs only to realize that social media and the accessibility of text and image make pain more intimate than we desire, faced as we are with the continual decision to be either spectators or actors. In three short weeks, bodies and spirits withered away as bullets and missiles pierced flesh, all while $150 million inauguration galas were planned and George W. Bush tried to reshape his now macabre legacy.
This morning, I flipped around and ended up watching Food Paradise, a show glorifying the gods of gluttony and excess. Annoyed, I went to a corner, tried a Matsyasana Fish Pose and burned some incense to clear the space. Fish pose done and incense near finished, I remarked rather acerbically, "We are in the same place."
Unfortunately, 2009 feels just like 2008 with more distractions. We have become a world of redundancy. Our response to tragedy is routine and our calculation of needs is faulty. Israel bombs schools, we protest. Oscar Grant is murdered, we protest. I am not knocking protests and rallies, but we need new tools. Bay Area-based rapper and activist, Kiwi Illafonte summarizes much of my concern:
As organizers and activists have become more sophisticated, so have the powers that be. I would imagine that they've come up with methods of quelling the people's rage. Of sedating the people's raw energy. A few crumbs here, a couple concessions there. A little bit of media and political rhetoric that offers an illusion of hope. Then boom, the protests lose steam, the people get weary, and all is quiet once again. Until of course something else happens.
Oscar Grant deserves justice. The people of Gaza deserve justice. The question is, how bad does injustice have to get for people to really be pissed off enough to take real action?
"...action without theory / is a riot and not really / a revolution..." -Faith Santilla
That said, I believe even more than ever that being organized and strategic, and having unity and solidarity is what will truly move us forward. To get to that place will take work (which has already begun, respectively), and a commitment from folks to be steadfast and resilient. And to quit fucking talking shit and organize! Revolution ain't cute.
Illafonte is right: Revolution ain't cute; it's messy and complicated. Unfortunately, we desire immediate actions. When the protests ends, what is next? Do we even have the grammar to build rather than just tear down? We still search for superheroes and saviors, forgetting what June Jordan urged us to recognize in her 1980 "Poem for South African Women": "And the ones who stood without sweet company... we are the ones we have been waiting for."
Obama cannot save us -- not because he is inept as a leader, but because we can only save ourselves. Protesting is not sustainable if we have yet to articulate a clear vision of what results we want from such action. In Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Robin D.G. Kelley writes:
[W]e must tap the well of our collective imaginations, do what earlier generations have done: dream. Trying to envision "somewhere in advance of nowhere," as poet Jayne Cortez puts it, is an extremely difficult task, yet it is a matter of greater urgency. Without new visions we don't know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.
For some reason, we assumed we would all be magically transformed in 2009. We are a superstitious folk, and not in a good way. No shift in moon phases or solar cycles can transform a world that is not ready to transform itself. Many of us harped on the bleak beginnings of 2009 as a predictor for the remaining months. 2009 will be bleak if we spend more time writing about the bleakness then actually doing something to address the material and spiritual crisis we've managed to get ourselves into. We can blame the Bushes, the Israeli government, the police, the corporations and everyone else, but we must acknowledge how our own silence makes us complicit as well.
While the beginning of 2009 seems ugly and familiar, there is also something reassuring and poetic in the opportunities our collective tragedy provides. Death and murder is a place to welcome rebirth, reflection and renewal. Enduring poverty and unemployment is a place to meet our needs either by making our own things, bartering, substituting or rethinking the notion of "necessity" as well as reviving the efforts of our ancestors. Crisis is a space of opportunity. Innovation and sustainable change is mothered by our struggle to create beauty and regality in the face of ugliness.
Rumi reminds us:
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into color. Do it now.
Let's collectively heed that advice and spend the remainder of 2009 walking out like someone suddenly born into color.
Kameelah Rasheed was raised on a harmonious, yet eclectic mix of Islam and old Gil Scott-Heron records. Currently, she teaches 12th grade Humanities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more of Kameelah's writing on her blog, KameelahWrites , see photography at her Flickr page.
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