This is a piece I would write about health care, and how we can all fight Trumpcare, if I were well enough to do so. Those of you who know my work know that when my body fails me, I often turn to words, but today, as I try to organize against this bill, I find even words are a struggle, because I have so little strength.To those who don’t know me or my situation, I think you’ll find my story familiar: Even with insurance, I have fought like hell for what care I’ve received, and it hasn’t been enough. My friends have crowd sourced care that should have been covered, and I face major delays in procedures that could help restore at least some of my mobility.
Amid my organizing efforts, and my desire to spout words of a defiance, I am frightened and deeply concerned, not only by the bill’s contents, but also by the inadequate opposition Trumpcare has been met with. It seems this bill, and all its horrors, have faded into a background of horrors in the American psyche. That is a state of affairs that could likewise spell death for some of the most vulnerable among us, and I find that absolutely chilling.
If I could manage it, this would be another battlecry piece, filled with words I might yell through a bullhorn, if I could get my body into the streets, every day, as I feel this cause demands. But instead, I am writing this from bed, where I’ve spent the whole day, to tell you that I need your help. We the disabled, and other people who will be ground under by this bill — including Medicaid recipients, who will see their benefits gutted over time — need you. We only have three days. That’s not a long time to commit your attention, so please do so. We have so many battles ahead, but this historically unprecedented attack on the US social safety net will do irrevocable damage to the lives of millions, and potentially shift the entire course of history against marginalized people in the US, in a way we have not yet seen in our lifetimes.
This piece is already longer than I thought it would be, as I expected to simply offer you a blank space, in brackets, that I would ask you to fill in your own spaces, on your own pages, in your own words, in talks with your senators, in the streets and in private conversations, with words taken from others, if necessary. But I feel so strongly, and so deeply worried, that I couldn’t help but pen a plea as well.
As many of us have warned since the onset of Trumpism, they are coming for your neighbors. This is just one manifestation of a march to a much more terrifying place. As many of you know, Trump’s Muslim ban was partially reinstated on Monday. After a long string of failures, Trump’s agenda has found a second wind, and so must our movements. But for now, I am asking: Please act in solidarity, in whatever way you can, for the next few days. Your love and rage over the next three days could mean the world, and your anger after the fact won’t save anyone.
Your disabled friends, and so many others, need your hearts and hands this week. Our lives and ability to live them depend on a broad network of solidarity, because we cannot do this without you. So please hold onto your values in this moment, and defend them, and us, with everything you have.
To those who are already doing all they can, I thank you, and I hope to hug you on the other side of this, and celebrate a much-needed victory against ableism and authoritarianism.
Author’s note: If you live in Chicago, please join us tomorrow in Daley Plaza for a vigil for victims of health care neglect, past, present and future. I wasn’t up for organizing this, but I am doing it anyway, because I feel the moment demands it, and I will deeply appreciate anyone else who extends themselves by attending, in spite of any obstacles they might face.
Today I am joining the #womensstrike. I have seen a lot of talk lately about how choosing to join the strike is a privileged decision. In my case, that’s true. I will not be penalized for missing a day’s work, because my publication’s leadership chose to support those who wanted to join the strike. To make a long story short, my workplace would not have the character that informed the decision to support us if our publication had not unionized in 2009. Truthout was actually the first online-only publication to unionize, and even though I didn’t work there at the time, I have always felt a bit of pride around that.
But to get back to privilege: Activism is expensive, and committed people give what they can. When I was only bringing in my intern’s stipend from Truthout, while also organizing full-time, losing any amount of pay would have been injurious, to say the least. But I still spent way too much money than I could afford to on activism, as many of us do. Now, as a full staff member, I worry less about my finances, and I have more flexibility in running off to do movement work. I also have access to insurance through my job. I’m a union member, which means I have some rights that everyone ought to have. A lot of people like me, who won’t endure any punitive impact for participating today, will do so, and will do what they can to advocate for women. Many others will be taking a legitimate risk or financial hit to participate.
I’m in favor of accessibility in our work, but if we are critiquing people for withholding their labor, we are straight up off the rails.
Is the #womensstrike an effective maneuver? That’s an entirely separate debate, but I would argue that if it builds solidarity and people continue to learn new lessons about organizing, then it will be a victory. If it makes a cultural impact, in terms of a rising resistance, it will be a victory. If it inches people a little closer to radicalization, that’s a victory.
I can’t tell you with certainty what will create the necessary momentum to defeat fascism, but I can tell you what won’t: a circular firing squad of movement critics.
Entering awkward and mismatched organizing situations is part of the work. And to be clear, I know there are many people who will be participating today whose politics will never align with mine. I am willing to negotiate with that, to varying extents, to mitigate the catastrophes ahead. My conscience is demanding as much, even as I, at times, continue to struggle with such tasks.
Could this or any project not pan out as hoped? Of course. That’s always possible. When you stop thinking such things are possible, you’re probably on your way to a colossal fuck up. And let’s remember, no one ever won anything without trying.
Remember, none of us are movement managers. We are organizers, whose work is building community, culture and action around the possibility of a different way of life. This does involve social critique, but it also involves a different immediate intention than that of a culture critic.
If you do critique, realize, from jump, that you may be underestimating the work itself or the complexity of the situation. How many times have you been involved with something that had all sorts of angles — stories that deserved to be understood in their own right? This is definitely the case with the #womensstrike, an issue that has been well addressed by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.
But let’s assume for a moment that you’re in a situation where you’re dead right about someone’s tactic or strategy being flawed. You are still not a mass movement manager. Because your work is in front of you, and your power and creativity are needed front and center. You simply cannot micromanage a mass movement. Because if it’s small enough for you to keep the whole of it consistent with your politics, in this political climate, it’s too small.
So what can we do to work our way out of our silos?
First, we have to get over our startle responses to people not doing everything as we would do it. All of us. This is about obstructing what could be the swift end of the world, and what will, at the very least, claim many lives through neglect and abuse in the United States, and through militant violence, climate change and willful deprivation elsewhere. I could argue that privilege is flexing critique all day, and describing the water while people are drowning, but I won’t, because at this point, I have come to agree with Mariame Kaba about the utility of the word “privilege.” When a word means everything, it means nothing, and when “privilege” means that going on strike is a crime against those who can’t, I’m not sure I have any further use for it.
Of course, none of this even begins to address how out of touch with history these critiques are. I wonder if these people would have condemned the strikes and boycotts of the last century — actions that are well celebrated in the history books and in movement spaces today, despite the fact that they centered the participation of those who could enact a particular tactic. I wonder if these people have even read such histories, including the history of International Women’s Day. Do the people launching angry think pieces about the strike understand that this day is rooted in a labor strike? If not, I recommend checking out Zoé Samudzi’s thoughts on the subject, but don’t expect the indulgence of any followup questions, because Samudzi has opted to join today’s strike by refraining from unpaid intellectual labor.
Yes, that’s right, there are ways to become involved with today’s strike without skipping a day of paid work. The idea that gendered work is uncompensated in many forms is one that is being addressed today by numerous participants. If you didn’t know that, there is probably also a spectrum of politics involved with this strike event that you may be unaware of (hint: it’s not just about the people who planned the Women’s March).
Can we spend more time exploring and learning than we do critiquing? Because the left is the only land I know of where people actually think that picking apart every emerging project will somehow lead to the emergence of an adequate project.
Ask yourself, what are you building? What are you healing? The vast majority of the time, if you can’t answer that question, you are misdirecting your energies.
An escalated culture of fugitive capture, and brutality, has emerged around immigrants. Police departments around the country, already rampant with abuse, have been given a hall pass to commit heinous acts of violence. Life-sustaining health care is being replaced with the expectation that workers save up to become catastrophically ill. The water of Black and Native communities is disproportionately tainted — and let’s just think about the fact that the word “disproportionate” is a necessary qualifier when discussing poisoned water in a country with as much wealth as the United States.
People are going to die because of Trump. Maybe millions of people. It’s springtime for fascism and the “resistance” is currently comprised of a bunch of leftists reenacting the last scene of Reservoir Dogs.
If we have any hope of halting Trumpism in its tracks, or even dulling its impacts, we as leftists will have to do the unthinkable: work in concert, despite our differences, and quarrel with the enemy more than we quarrel with each other.
One of the things I love about this page is that it can become whatever it needs to be, or whatever I need it to be, on a given day. Tonight, I need it to be a wall I can chalk a poem on, before walking away. My thanks to those who read it.
Another Poem About Survival
Step backward, forward or aside as needed.
There were never any roadmaps.
Shelter yourself and others,
in fabric, between walls and with open arms.
There are days so dark that light must hide
to grow until its fully formed.
With armies mounting,
and knocking down doors
our hopes are hidden children
breathing behind false walls,
and whispered dreams —
neither deferred nor deployed.
They exist amid memories and empty chairs,
but at times leave us to eat alone,
longing for the pitch of a friend, or lover
or father’s laughter,
or for the sound of anyone at all.
If your best-loved hopes have turned to vapor,
and risen away
from sight or reach,
or have even begun to linger
on the edge of memory,
Joy and pain, grief and pleasure,
will turn like wheels.
And on some unknowable day
The sky will reopen,
And water will return as rain.
There is a grief that precedes tragedy, when loss is on the horizon. But there are people whose work, by design, embraces loss. I wanted to lean on the words of one such person today, as we contemplate the uncertainty ahead. Heather is a mentally ill artist and a reiki practitioner. She is also a former sex worker and a death midwife. We have worked together and written together, and today, I am grateful to share one of her reflections.
One of my hospice patients is actively dying. When I arrived for my visit yesterday there was a chaplain with her, I think he was surprised that I was a hospice volunteer with my high heeled boots, faux fur coat, and bright red hair. But I dress up for these visits because the residents love sequins, glitter, fake fur. When I walk through the halls they pet me like a cat. And I think for those who have a hard time remembering, these things help keep me memorable. Janice does not remember me most of the time, but the first thing she always says to me is, “You have red hair.” I had touched up my hair that morning with this in mind.
In my hospice training and death midwife course I learned what the signs are that someone is actively dying. It is different to write these things down in a notebook than it is to experience them. I sit next to her and stroke her forehead, she is almost bald but what hair she still has is brushed to the side and fastened with a pin. Her head is feverish but her hands are cold and bruise-colored. I polished her nails around Halloween, some chipped blue still remains. She lays perfectly still and then intermittently trembles and balls her fists, surprisingly strong. There is a rattle in her throat that seems disconnected from her breathing. I wonder at all the involuntary things our bodies do, the struggle between that energy that has always been here will always be here and the vehicle where it is currently trapped.
I stay with her for as long as I can, passing the time by looking around her room. She has two roommates. One has some artwork with her name written in glitter on a shamrock. Her bedside dresser is covered in beanie babies, snow globes, and those ceramic figures of bonneted girls that were really popular around the time I was born. The other dresser is almost completely empty. There is an old black and white photo of a couple on their wedding day. People’s faces look different now. Men don’t have those heavy-lidded eyes, women don’t have those healthy round faces. Or maybe it’s just the black and white that makes them seem otherworldly. There is a cross hanging over her bed. I think about all of the things I have and imagine trying to decide which few things I would take with me if I had to go live in a room with two strangers against my will. I couldn’t imagine what I would bring, I couldn’t imagine that happening to me.
Then I remember it already happened when I was put in the mental hospital in 4th grade.
Maybe that’s why none of this is as upsetting to me as I feel like it should be.
As I am leaving I kiss her on the forehead knowing I may never see her again. I wish I could stay longer. I wish I had more time.
On my way out I run into a resident who is not one of my hospice patients but who likes to pet my clothes. She is wearing mittens which means she was probably trying to scratch one of the nurses. I’ve been warned to be careful around her because she bites. I love her.
“I remember you” she says. “I was there the day you were born,” she says and claps her hands together, the sound muffled by her mittens. I say goodbye and she keeps clapping. “I’ve been here forever,” she calls after me. “I’ve been here forever.”
What does it mean to stand at the precipice of human failure — a failure so profound that it threatens to both tear humanity into oblivion, and drag all life on earth down with us? What does hope look like, in the face of such potential disaster, and what does it look like when all available math tells us that the disasters we all fear are already underway? With Trump about to take office, so many shades and shapes of human suffering feel inevitable, and anyone who is keeping up with the math of climate change is likely, and quite understandably, discouraged. So what does hope look like, as we step into a new year?
For me, it looks like my friends, huddled around fires in Standing Rock, surviving the bitterness of a North Dakota winter so that our people may live. It looks like hundreds of nations of our people, travelling thousands of miles, and in some cases, overcoming centuries old blood feuds, to stop a pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners promised those invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline by January 1, and there won’t be. That’s what what hope looks like, to me, as I ready myself to kick nearly everything else about this year to the curb.
In some ways, Native peoples and allies who are still holding it down in Standing Rock are representative of what marginalized people are experiencing around the country. After the election, we all felt a storm setting in, and while most of us aren’t literally laboring against the elements to sustain our bodies and resistance, many of us are huddling together for warmth, contemplating what it’s going to take to survive.
As we look forward, beyond the false fixes of a waning administration, toward the uncertain road ahead, I have no illusions about how ugly things might get, but I also have hope. During the last week, I witnessed on odd sort of backlash against hope on social media. When people would speak optimistically about the new year, they would often be met with the slingshot cynicism of people who are fixed in their own pessimism. People were actually insulting the intelligence and awareness of people for naming one of the most fundamental hopes we all experience with time: That maybe this year will be better than the last.
Is a hard rain gonna fall? Absolutely. Is the planet itself at stake, with climate change hurtling toward a point of no return, and (to put it mildly) a mercurial reality TV star in office? Yes. We are staring down mass deportations, escalating state violence (on all fronts, including the violence of mass incarceration), and the absolute edge of extinction, but here’s the thing: We are still here. We are still strong and creative, and many of us come from peoples who have survived what most can’t imagine. We have each other, and in our unity, in our resistance, there is always hope.
In the not-too-distant future, the hope that real resistance brings may be the only hope that matters. And I’m not talking about the hope that comes with sharing an important article, or the hope that knowing determined people can bring. I’m talking about the hope that comes with truly joining, or continuing to throw down, with the resistance, in whatever way we’re able.
As we stand on this precipice, faced with a climatic battle for all life — and for the very idea of freedom — we shouldn’t downplay what we’re up against. But it’s equally important that we not diminish ourselves. Every moment of our lives as oppressed people, and as organizers, and every moment of struggle since first contact, when the violence of colonialism reached our shores, has led to this one, just as this moment will lead to the next. And what comes next can only be predicted, and as 2016 has shown us, predictions do not define reality.
I do understand cynicism. For years, I draped myself in pessimism and skepticism, because it was easier than having hope. Being skeptical rarely blows up in one’s face. Hope, on the other hand, can fly high, full of promise, and then spiral to the ground in flames (amid the background noise of I-told-you-so’s).
Cynicism is emotionally stagnant, and therefore, emotionally safer, but it is also self fulfilling, and rarely yields anything beautiful.
I understand being deeply pessimistic about the prospect of grassroots resistance clashing with a militarized surveillance state. And I understand being convinced, due to the staggering math of climate change, that nothing we do now matters. I recognize people’s misgivings, but I also believe that humanity’s potential isn’t restricted to its shadow side. So much is possible, and it’s okay to be in love with possibility, and to fight for that love as though the whole world depends on it — because it does.
My work is sustained by love and hope, and I understand that, for some people, hope is a significant challenge. Sometimes, it is for me as well. Giving up and just living out this life of mine, as comfortably as I can manage, is a thought that’s flashed through my mind more than once this year, and honestly, that’s never happened before. From the moment I got involved in movement work, years ago, I have never doubted what I needed to be doing with my life. But this year, pain, longing and frustration have, at times, left me kicking around the notion of some simpler happiness — even on the edge of oblivion.
But that’s not what it’s going to take for all of us to make it through what’s coming, and it’s not who I want to be in this world, in my community, at this moment in history. I want to be who I am — a person living in rebellion against what’s killing and crushing us.
I resisted my aforementioned urges to hurl myself toward some easy out, and I know many others will as well. Because while hope can be difficult, nothing will change for the better without it, and we all know in our hearts that if we are to survive, everything must change. If it doesn’t, there’s nowhere to go but down. And standing on the edge of catastrophe, I want no part of that chasm.
But here’s the good news: Human potential runs in more than one direction. For all the complex harm we’ve caused, we remain creative. We remain defiant. What has been built by human hands can be dismantled by human hands, and there are beautiful examples, throughout history, of things we’ve built that are worth living and fighting for.
And as for what must be ended: There are failings and weaknesses embedded in the walls of this system, and as history has shown us, walls can fall down.
Hope is renewable, but if you don’t have it now, that’s okay. Just be sure to take the hand of someone who does. We can be here for each other, and together we can figure out what to hold onto, what to let go of, and what we needs to be torn apart. Together, we can figure out what to build, and how.
I won’t say I don’t find the new year daunting. I do. I have been very quick to tears lately and I can’t decide if it’s because I am mourning what I lost in 2016, or if I am somehow preemptively grieving the losses to come. Whatever it is, I know I need to vent it out before it morphs into despair — the best weapon of our enemies. And I know that, in spite of my tears, I will move forward, knowing that my hopes won’t always deliver, and that I will at times resent them for having failed me, but that they are nonetheless worth having. The truth is, hope can be a bitch, but saving ourselves, and each other, will take more determination than we could ever conjure without it.
So in these last words I write to you all, at the end of this wretched year, I want to say this:
We can make it, friends. But we aren’t going to save ourselves or the earth serendipitously. To survive, and to get free, we will have to carve out the will to believe in ourselves and in each other, and we will have to put one foot in front of the other.
We, as human beings, like to sort things. It’s more than liking, really. We need to sort things, to order them, to think we understand events and our ever-evolving relationships with them. It is human — that need to name why we felt a thing, who made us feel it and when.
It is human to need to know when we felt was a reaction to what was, and when it became, for better or worse, part of some frustratingly non linear experience of grief and healing. Or conversely, to identify an era in which things changed for the better, or when we lived out some beautiful period of joy or transformation.
So, in 2016, we have named the year as our enemy. It honestly feels quite strange to me that there is an actual social media backlash against “blaming a damn year,” but I get it. I get all of it. I understand putting a spent calendar in a box, and leaving it by the side of the road, cursing it as you drive away, and I also get why some might find that silly. It is a little silly, but in these times, I am increasingly unabashed about the silly things that help sustain me.
No, the natural, illness-oriented and politically wicked forces that wreaked havoc in 2016 will not vanish at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but we will start a new session of sorting our troubles. We will have fresh pages to write under a new heading. Like a birthday, January 1 will mark no immediate transition, and no separation with the forces that governed the previous year, but it is nonetheless a mark of having survived — and may carry with it the hope that this particular lap around the sun might play out better than the last.
Perhaps it won’t be any better. Amid climate change, the rise of Trump and the existence of Lena Dunham, it’s possible that humanity has truly joined the dark side, and that the rebel resistance will come to no good end. But I’ve always been a little silly, and I believe in rebellions. I attach myself, unapologetically, to fantastic narratives of hope and while I am fully aware of the shadow side of human potential, I also believe in the creativity and courage of oppressed peoples. So I am holding out hope, with great discipline, on the cusp of a new year that admittedly appears ready to explode.
But whether the coming year is rigged with explosives or not, I will move forward thinking of all that we can do to save ourselves, and each other, and to create beautiful moments, unique to their parcel of time — moments that sustain us amid the rest of it.
So are we silly to blame a year? Sure. This is the internet. We say lots of silly things. I could be wrong, but I don’t think “blaming 2016” is making anyone less aware of the illnesses that have killed our faves, or the political, environmental or economic tumult we face. While awareness of those things might not be as high as we would prefer, it’s not as though we were on track to be fully aware, and were derailed by a goofy coping mechanism. Not everything can be a doom and gloom analysis. The internet has a lot of that too. I read a great deal of it. And sometimes we need a break.
We need gifs from our favorite sitcoms, memes that express our annoyance and sometimes, we need to scapegoat an entire year. It may be absurd, but so is being human and feeling the world, such as it is. One of the reasons I cherished Carrie Fisher, who the world lost on Tuesday, was that she understood that, sometimes, you need to know how to laugh at what’s trying to kill you. I read Fisher’s novel “Postcards From the Edge” over a decade ago, as I tried to stave off the nausea of heroin withdrawal, in a Chicago psych ward. Laughing as much as I could, without becoming physically ill, while twitching, kicking and whining in my bed, didn’t make me any less aware of my situation. It meant I was surviving it. And cursing 2016 for taking Fisher didn’t mean that I thought the calendar year, rather than cardiac arrest, had killed her. Sometimes, you just need something to shake your fist at, even if that fist shaking is nothing but the punchline of a sad joke.
Sometimes life feels like a sad joke, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing that.
As people surviving a society that’s actually destroying the planet it inhabits, I think we need to know when to allow for the absurd. In fact, I think there comes a point where critiquing the absurd becomes an even sillier act than the one being called into question. But such is the spiral of angst in a shitty year.
This is a complicated moment for many with anti-interventionist politics. Do I feel differently about US military intervention in Syria than I did when I spoke up for the first time against US involvement? No. Do I carry the weight of knowing that none of us can ever be certain of anything, and that people are dying horribly right now? Yes. I do feel that weight, and I think that’s appropriate.
Reports coming out of Aleppo indicate that the city’s remaining medical practitioners are being slaughtered — if they are not dead already — and that entire families are being executed, both in the streets and in their own homes, as others voice on social media that amid the approaching sounds of explosions, they expect to be dead soon.
Only a few years ago, I stood in front of a crowd and spoke to why I did not think we should engage, militarily, with what was happening in Syria. I remember what I said — what many of us said — and I believe it no less now as it now rings in my ears alongside the words of those facing unthinkable violence in Aleppo. I still believe it because I think we must make decisions that are guided by what we know about systems and the outcomes they bring. Millions of people are dead because of the interventionist warfare that has played out over the past two administrations. Even when named as humanitarian, US military interventions are grounded in imperialism, and we know what bloody nightmares that imperialism brings.
The severity of an atrocity does does not change the reality of our practices, with regard to intervention and endless war.
That is not to say that the world has not failed Syria. We most assuredly have. But failure takes many shapes, and I do not believe that failing to throw bombs at a complex social and political problem was one of them. But I acknowledge that many feel we should have intervened militarily on their behalf, and I feel their anger and grief deeply. I feel that I should.
But I am also painfully aware of the ways in which we did participate. Through leaked diplomatic cables, we know that the United States government not only worked to destabilize the Syrian government, with an eye toward regime change, but actively encouraged sectarianism to fuel those efforts. As Robert Naiman wrote in The WikiLeaks Files, “It was easy to predict then that, while a strategy of promoting sectarian conflict in Syria might indeed help undermine the Syrian government, it could also help destroy Syrian society.”
The CIA’s bungled efforts to affect matters on the ground — where militants armed by the Pentagon actually wound up fighting groups armed by the CIA — are an excellent reflection of how clueless the United States has been with regard to this conflict. As a country, we didn’t know how to coax a better outcome, from a military standpoint, and more firepower wouldn’t have changed that. When a country has no working strategy, no concept of how to align itself with a just and strategic outcome, adding more explosions is not a fix.
That said, I believe in assuming the weight of our positions, because some decisions are heavy, whether we’re right or wrong. And I will never assume that I am above mistakes and missteps, especially in matters affecting the safety and freedom of others. So while I hold to my beliefs today, in grief for what we are witnessing from afar, those beliefs do feel heavy in my heart and in my hands.
The story of what has happened, and what is happening in Syria is complicated, and I am definitely not best suited to tell it, but there are many, many ways in which the systems we oppose laid the groundwork for all of this, and compounded the struggles of those most impacted. So when we talk about how we failed Syria, and what we can do now — as well we should — let’s remember to dig deep and not act as though our only moments of truth are about whether or not to pull a trigger.
All of that said, I believe that as people who love justice, we have a duty to bear witness, and I will continue to do so. Social media has created a means for some people to be heard in what may be their last hours, and I will hear them. I hope many of you will do the same, and that we will echo the truth of their experiences in whatever ways we can. We must honor their truth and the truth of this moment, now and always — while doing whatever we can to help.
To all who are impacted by these atrocities, I extend my love and solidarity, for whatever it is worth in this moment.
Final message – I am very sad no one is helping us in this world, no one is evacuating me & my daughter. Goodbye.- Fatemah #Aleppo