For Little Girls Inspired By Hillary Clinton

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(Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr, under Creative Commons)

As an Indigenous woman who organizes in the hopes that both Black and Brown people might know greater freedom, safety and self determination, I am no fan of electoral politics. I’m a street level organizer and a direct action trainer. I see voting as an act of harm reduction, and even within that spectrum, I am very selective about how and when I engage with it. That said, I will not be hassling anyone on the left about their choices with regard to the upcoming presidential election. It’s not my area of organizing and I understand that there are hard questions in play. Do I want a Trump presidency? Of course not. Do I loathe Hillary Clinton? More than words can say. Do I understand why people would vote for her to keep Trump out of office? Absolutely.

I likewise understand why a great many people will find themselves unable to co-sign her presidency, regardless of how frightening they may find Donald Trump. While many call such abstention an act of privilege, most of the people I know who have stated that they simply cannot cast their lot with Hillary, no matter what, are people living in the margins who are simply unwilling to feel complicit in their own destruction, and the destruction of other marginalized people.

But I really do understand all sides of the to-vote-for-her-or-not debate. I truly do.

What I couldn’t stomach was waking up the morning after Hillary’s coronation at the Democratic National Convention to a wave of posts about how, despite her flaws, Hillary’s ascension was a victory for women everywhere. When I would correct the people who had composed such comments, reminding them that a victory for rich white women is not a victory for all women, I was told several times to think of all the little girls who may now believe that they too could be president one day.

Well, I have taken a moment to think about them, and I’d like to share what I might actually say to those little girls, if they were listening.

To all the little (white) girls who may now believe that they too could grow up to drone Brown people one day:

May you find better role models and aspirations.

Your country is anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and wages endless wars. A rich, cut throat woman who has committed countless crimes against marginalized people should not be the stuff your dreams are made of. You can be whatever you want to be, but my advice is to be kind and humane in your dealings with others, and to do all that you can to amplify the voices of those ground under by white supremacy — rather than trying to claw your way to the top of some electoral mountain.

You are probably too young right now to understand the harm Hillary Clinton has done to so many, both as a supporter of her husband’s policies when he was president, and as Secretary of State. You may even be shielded from these discussions, because many white liberal families make the mistake of believing that you shouldn’t understand racism at a young age, the way Black and Brown children are forced to.

But one thing you may soon understand is that when your textbook tells you about important milestones for women in the United States, they mean “white women.” You will one day read, for example, that “women” in the United States won the right to vote on August 18, 1920. Your grade school history books will lift up the names of white suffragettes who toiled to make that victory possible. But what they probably won’t mention is that those same suffragettes often invoked racist language to further their arguments, because the gains of white women in the US have often been made at the expense of Black and Brown people, just as Hillary’s gains are today.

As little girls, I hope you are being taught to dream big and beyond anything you’ve been told is possible. I hope you learn to ignore men who order you to smile and write off commercials that tell you to buy some lotion, hairspray or bra to “fix” everything about yourself. I hope you grow up strong, ready to defend yourself against the violence of rape culture and patriarchy. And I hope you grow up understanding that your worth is not altered by the pending coronation of a woman who will bring misery and death to so many who don’t look like you. Your potential is your own. You can do great things. And I hope that you will. Because we need you, and a better world needs you.

What the world doesn’t need is another Hillary Clinton.

And if you’re looking for heroes, there’s no shortage out there. One of them was named Berta Cáceres. You should look her up one day, and never forget the role that Hillary Clinton played in taking her from this world.

On Social Media and Trauma Fatigue

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Image: Kara Rodriguez


I have experienced what I think is a common feeling of late, in my dealings with social media. It’s an emotional exhaustion that makes one averse to clicking a link to read about one more act of horrendous violence. This aversion isn’t the compassion fatigue of a trauma center nurse, or the secondary trauma of those who work with abused children or survivors of the prison industrial complex. It’s clearly a more distant phenomenon than anything that places one in such immediate, empathetic proximity to the aftermath of harm, but as many of us have learned, it is no less real.

My work in journalism and in social media requires me to have at least a cursory understanding of most major news stories as they unfold, and often, a more in-depth analysis of those events. But I know that I am not alone in having found that some days, I just can’t click that link or take in the details of yet another tragedy.

But I know I can’t indulge that hesitation for long when it occurs, because one cannot fulfill their duty to fight without knowing what they are fighting, in real time. I won’t watch footage of police murders, as I know what state sanctioned death looks like, but I have to carry the stories of those who are taken. I need to know what both my people — Indigenous people — and Black people are up against. I need to be able to echo the names of the fallen.

But sometimes… it’s hard. Especially when you have your own pains and trauma to attend to. Honestly, if I didn’t live in a community that takes care if its own, I probably couldn’t handle the world. I had a great talk with a Black man who I had never met before recently, about what it means to live in resistance and in community. Not being involved with present movements, but having a sense of history, he wasn’t surprised to hear me describe what it was like, working in Chicago’s social justice community. As I explained that we don’t simply attend protests together, but also share laughter, break bread, and rally to get each other out of jail (regardless of how we wound up there), he seemed heartened. “It’s good you do,” he said. “No other way you’re gonna win.”

I think he’s right about what it takes to win. But I think for some of us, “what it takes” means something much more immediate than victory, or even resistance. For someone like myself, who has coped with various debilitations, both psychological and physical, and who continues to stare down traumas and challenges that seem almost impossible to process at times, community is survival. Because I truly don’t know if I could sustain myself in this world without the shelter, comfort and purpose my community brings to my own efforts to survive my life. Along with the love of my partner, it’s what gives me the strength to open my eyes and take in the things I’d like to look away from, for the sake of my own sanity.

So many people want to look away, and hesitate to take any action against the things they would rather not see. But I really believe that more people would rise up if they understood that living in resistance meant more than staring down what’s ugly, taking risks and incurring trauma.

And as a side note, if your resistance work isn’t more than those things, you may be building with the wrong people, because it really ought to be.

So to those feeling the same fatigue that I am, and who have certainly felt it before, I am grateful that we are in this together. I certainly couldn’t be limping through my current struggles — both figuratively and literally — without you. And when I remind you of your worth, I am also reminding myself that we are not simply individuals, trying to bring some light into dark places.

We are constellations of action and possibility.

We are peoples who not only struggle to tear down the things that harm us, but to live our aspirations for what could be.

We are dreamers who must absorb horror to build forward. And as a human being who, like everyone, may occasionally close my eyes, breathe deeply and not take in the noise of the world, I will open them again. I will stare down what we are up against, and I will get out of bed to fight the good fight. Because this is the moment in history we were handed, and we know what needs to be healed and built.

We know that as we do that work, we are not alone. And if you are, you shouldn’t be. Because you don’t just have to take in the horror. You can be part of a movement that nurtures its own. You can build that space if you have to. You can live the world we want in real time, and that too is an act of resistance.

 

For Those Who Couldn’t March Today

Today, a group of young Black women and girls led a sit-in in one of Chicago’s most popular parks, before leading thousands of community members into the streets of my city. As I type these words, many are still in the streets, demanding that Black humanity be recognized in an exploitative culture wherein Black obedience has always been enforced, on pain of torture, death or incarceration. It’s easy to understand why some of us at times feel pangs of guilt or regret when we cannot physically lend our feet and voices to such moments. Whether the impediment is a physical or geographical limitation, a matter of childcare or mental health, or any other insurmountable difficulty, our absence can feel like a failure of solidarity.

It’s understandable that we would identify being physically present as an essential expression of love in times of struggle. And for those who can, showing up and lending their feet to long marches and their bodies to blockades, physical participation is a tremendously powerful act. It is a necessary role, and many such people are needed.

For those facing insurmountable difficulties, or a lack of sustainability, such guilt is of course misplaced, but its psychological roots are wholly comprehensible. In the case of the movement for Black lives, for example, it may come from an awareness that anti-Blackness is publicly performed. It is an ongoing, public attack on Black survival and self actualization, and when an endless war, waged against an oppressed people, has harmed so many, it is a natural impulse to want to join the front lines.

Oppression that is visible must be met with visible resistance. And anti-Blackness couldn’t be more visible.

The overseer, the slave catcher, the lynch mob and the police have all enforced Black obedience, and the the consequences of noncompliance, in highly visible ways. Whips, chains, ropes and bullets have not simply served as forms of individual abuse and assassination, but as instruments of terror that aim to enforce the collective submission of Black people under capitalism and white supremacy. These weapons have been employed as social, economic and physical control mechanisms, wielded by those who benefit from and serve white supremacy.

But as essential as public acts of defiance are to movements that confront very public oppressions, some of us have to pause, from time to time, and be gentle with ourselves, and each other, about where and how we are able to contribute. We have to love the work in all its forms — and ourselves, and each other.

As an activist and organizer who is accustomed to putting my feet on the ground at protests and marches, I have been learning, fairly recently, to be patient with myself. I can’t always show up the way I would like to when bold revolutionaries take to the streets. As someone who has at times been able to organize, and to at times document moments of struggle, it has been and remains frustrating to imagine the ways that I could be of assistance if my lower back and left leg weren’t in such rough shape, or if my mental health was stabler.

But as a dear friend has said to me repeatedly (in a particularly scolding tone), the condition that at times disables my leg will not improve if I veer from my (fairly limited) prescribed exercises. I think it’s a positive sign that I no longer become as overwhelmed with guilt about such things. I am more grounded in the reality that I cannot magically change my circumstances, or develop superpowers, simply because I feel an emotional pull towards the streets.

Social change requires transformation, and that’s a long haul proposition, with many roles to fill.

I reassure myself that I am still here in the background, writing what I can, offering trainings to share my skills when needed, and trying to do the work of building community with like-minded people. I, of course, wish I could be physically present in moments like this one, but my admiration for those who show up, in whatever ways they can, gives me the comfort I need to know that I am enough.

Sometimes we support freedom fighters who are pounding the pavement by marching alongside them, and that is a profoundly important task. But in this moment, I need to say to those who aren’t able to do this work with their feet that I see you. The meals you cook, the donations you make, the accounts you run, the healing and other support that you lend reminds me that I am enough.

We can lift up and help sustain the work. We can celebrate the blossoming resistance of marginalized peoples. And we can do it from where ever we have to be, because we are all necessary.

It is essential that we remember, as we strive to contribute in whatever way we are able:

We are essential to the movements we care about.

We are both loved and needed.

And we are enough.

Today, I lent my Twitter account to someone who was able to march. Their own account was shut down for some reason, and I offered to let them to use my Twitter following to keep tweeting about the beautiful resistance that was happening in our city. It was a small gesture, but it was something I could give, so I gave it.

Another friend of mine printed out copies of a profoundly important document about how people can help support movements when they can’t show up in person. The act of sharing that document was crucial movement work. It was organizing. And it was essential.

So if you are showing up in whatever way you can, remember that you matter, and that you are appreciated. Our movements are more than a series of actions, however essential direct action may be — and I obviously believe that it is essential to transformation. But what is necessary isn’t always accessible, and the work of building culture and community is no less important than the work that others are better equipped to carry out.

Transformation, as Michelle Alexander recently stated, means cultivating a new consciousness. We all have a role to play in doing that work. Because a moment that involves direct action without the cultivation of community and culture is just that: a moment. Moments matter, but movements can shake the earth.

To get free, we need everyone. So to those of you who are giving your all, doing work that is often unseen, I thank you for helping me to see the value in my own work, in whatever form it takes.

And thank you for all that you do.