Capital police decided that we did not have the proper permit to be there. The speakers kept speaking. The cops warned us that we would be arrested. They then started harassing media. Cameras started shutting down. Speakers started cutting their speeches short. After the second warning, as I don’t think anybody was prepared for arrest threats at a press conference, everyone split up so that no group was more than 25 people.
The last protest that I went to was in Guatemala. You know that Central American country that people refer to as “third world” or “developing.” The place many people only know about because of civil war and genocide. That place. Well, I imagine we had a permit for being in the central plaza. But I seriously doubt we had a permit to block the road and door in front of the presidential palace and then drum annoyingly.
Amazingly, nobody was threatened with arrest.
Aren’t you estadouidenses glad that you live in a country that is a beacon of freedom for the world?
I’m tempted to go into a long diatribe about the protest, prisons, criminalization, social control, and our shrinking spaces. But I’m going to have to save it for a day when I have more time. I will just say this.
There are risks involved with doing the right things, the necessary things. The system has been increasing those risks. I think that means we are all going to need to so some serious thinking about what risks we can take and then be willing to take them. Because their plan can backfire. They are counting on us to not make sacrifices. But if we all take the risks, thoughtful and strategic risks, then we can crash the justice system and all the other systems too.
Remember back in 2003 when people found out about the Total Information Awareness program? Sen. Feinstein was one of the people who cosponsored the amendment that was supposed to stop it. Now she is out there calling Snowden a traitor for exposing the fact that her politicking meant nothing… Wait a minute. Maybe I actually get it now.
You gotta give it to the British bureaucrats. They sure can create a paper trail. The people of Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco will probably not be happy to learn about the arms from Israel.
Have you all heard that police can collect DNA at your arrest the same way they collect fingerprints? Anti-rape groups say it is just fine. Wagatwe Wanjuki begs to differ.
My relationship with my parents started a downhill slide when I reached my teen years and never recovered. My father was the type of person who never wanted to talk about anything. He would blow up once in a while. But mostly he handled the hurt – the hurt that he felt or that he dished out – by having a couple scotch and sodas and some cigarettes and refusing to talk about it. He was over it, or so he claimed, and you should be too.
(Hmmm. Wonder where I got my coping mechanisms from?)
My mother, on the other hand, would entertain the conversation. But she is unable to grapple with the fact that she is human and imperfect. So, when faced with something hurtful she has done, she will just deny it happened. Or she will deny that it hurt you. Or she will move the conversation to some hurt she is feeling, or some sacrifice she thinks she has made, so that she can deflect you.
I don’t expect people to be perfect. Maybe I expected it from my father when I was a child. I certainly don’t expect it from anyone now. But when the things that have caused you enormous pain are denied, when you can’t even speak of them, there is no way to move on. You can suppress them until you implode. You can let them build up until you explode. You can jump up and down screaming about them in the hopes that they will be acknowledged. But you can’t really let it go. You can’t repair the relationship, tear down the walls, work on building something better.
That blindness that my parents had wasn’t one-sided. I was blind to their pain too. It wasn’t only that they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk about it. I didn’t have the experience to understand it. There are some things that I will never experience and will never understand. And my reactions and rebellion, while perhaps understandable, were not always productive for any of us.
But the difference between me and my parents is that they had all the power. My father could determine what was and was not going to be spoken about. The only power that I had was to hold onto my anger and to refuse to speak at all. So that is the power that I took. And when I say that I refused to speak, I mean not one syllable. And when I say that I held on to my anger, I mean that I was one pissed off kid.
This doesn’t just happen in personal relationships. It happens in communities too. Like when you express the frustration of dealing with certain types of behavior and the response is to deny or deflect. It doesn’t have to be the individual that actually did the thing in question. It is equally frustrating to get that from people who refuse to believe what they haven’t seen, don’t want to see, are incapable of seeing. Or maybe they just don’t want to be honest with themselves about whether they, as imperfect people, have done some of those things themselves.
We all do shitty things sometimes. We make mistakes. But we should never forget that some people have the power to determine what gets heard, what is deemed important. Parents have the power to shut kids down. Teachers have the power to shut students down. Governments, media, and academia have the power to shut everybody down. Since all of those institutions have been mostly in the control of people who have a very narrow range of experience, some people have been shut down much more than others.
Not only does that just suck, we all suffer for it. Because, the thing is, power and privilege are blind. Or as Junot Díaz put is so perfectly in his keynote (below), “The funny thing about our privilege is that we all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us.”
More privilege. More blindness. The more you are similar to the people with the power, the more likely you are to see your life and your story reflected. And the more you will be blind to the fact that those stories do not reflect other people’s experiences. The more you have been conditioned to assume that the world will listen to you, the easier it is to talk. The more you have been shut down, the harder it is. The less power and privilege you have, the more you are forced to understand and hear the stories of those few people who do have the power and privilege. Which is why Sherman Alexie can very accurately say to Bill Moyers, “I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”
Nobody can really understand another person’s experience. The older I get, the less I think people can even really understand their own privilege. But perhaps we can all get to the point where we understand that we have privilege and blindness. Maybe we can recognize where the holes are, whose stories are not being told. Maybe we can stop denying other people’s experiences when they do tell their stories.
I really hope so. Because if we can’t manage to start listening to people, especially the people who are heard the least, then we are fucked. People need their truth/frustration/pain to be acknowledged so that they can move on. We need to understand who has more power in every state/community/group/relationship/situation and act accordingly. We all need to see the truths that power hides from us, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unconsciously, if we are to build something better. We need to stop getting stuck somewhere between privilege and pain.
P.S. If you have yet to watch that keynote by Junot Díaz, it is definitely worthwhile.
I’m sure none of you have missed the NSA spying scandal, which will probably blow over in about 10 minutes. Or maybe people will finally freak out when they find out all their phone sex and dick pics are being filed somewhere. How intricate do you think their filing system is? A homeland security style color coding range for smut?
I’m an anarchist. I used to be in a punk collective. I worked on criminal injustice issues. Sadly, all of these things mean that I end up in spaces that are largely dudes. Maybe those things attract more men than women. Or maybe a whole lot of us women have been chased out of those spaces by the stuff you dudes do. I can tell you that one of the reasons I backed off from things this last year is that I just didn’t have it in me to deal with certain types of behavior, behavior that tends to be very gendered.
Why are there always those one or two dudes in every space who will take up half a meeting with long-ass soliloquies? Do they really think that what they have to say is that much more important/intelligent/fascinating than anyone else? Are they trying to prove how great they are? Shutting everyone else down by talking the whole time doesn’t show you are great. It shows you have no consideration for other people.
You know how else dudes shut people down? They talk down to people. How many times, like this weekend in fact, have I seen a woman say some real shit only to have a dude respond to her in the most condescending way? My friend was right and speaking from experience. Some asshat dude responded by demonstrating that he wasn’t listening to a word she said and telling her to read Frantz Fanon.
Which brings me to another way dudes shut things down. Why are so many of you incapable of speaking from experience or to experience? Why do you have to speak in quotes? I am not impressed by your ability to quote paragraphs from Marx or Kropotkin. Are you trying to intimidate people who haven’t read as many dead white guys as you have? Are you trying to demonstrate that you have never had an original thought? Or maybe just that you have so little life experience that you have nothing else to say?
And no, dude, I will not let you turn a discussion about lived experience and human suffering into a pissing match about some pseudo-intellectual point where you think you can outwit me.
And then there is that damned certainty, certainty that so often leads to bullying. In a way it is impressive how dudes who are talking out their ass can do so with such certainty. And then I watch women who know so much more than they do put things out as questions for discussion.
And somehow this certainty born of ignorance and hubris and disrespect wins out. Opening things for discussion allows people to find the holes in an idea, to use our combined experience and knowledge to come up with things that are better than one of us would come up with alone. Certainty just demolishes anything in its path. Certainty leads to antagonism and a debate where one person has to come out the winner – no matter how many flaws they ignore. And then you know what happens? We fuck up.
I’m so tired of bullies. Of certainty. Of a total blindness to the different ways issues affect women. Of women doing all the invisible work. FYI – I’m not your fucking secretary or your maid.
But do you know what the absolute worst thing of all is? The absolute worst of all are the dudes who do all of those things in the name of feminism. Or women’s rights. Or being an ally. Or whatever the fuck they want to call it. Can there possibly be anything more sexist and condescending and egotistical than telling me, a woman, what to think in the name of my oppression? You don’t have my experience and, since we can only be experts on our own experience, you don’t know shit.
I would not have the audacity to walk into the NAACP and tell them their polices are racist. I wouldn’t be so clueless as to take a position on whether or not black people should use the n word. I’ll certainly listen to the discussions about those issues. But my job is to work on myself and my own behavior so as not to contribute to other people’s suffering. It isn’t to think that what I read and hear trumps what they live.
I used to give the benefit of the doubt, thinking people should get some credit for trying. But that isn’t trying. It shouldn’t be that I get treated with more respect by people who don’t even think about these things than by the ones who claim to be allies. You aren’t being allies. You know what you are being? Heroes. You have made it all about you. You have bought into the victim, villain, hero narrative and you can’t break out of wanting to be a fucking hero. I don’t need a hero. Me and my girlfriends can take care of ourselves. Thank you very much.
I know I am painting a lot of people with a broad brush. But if you exhibit any of these behaviors, please stop. We need to be able to work together. Chasing us away isn’t helping.