The anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination has come and gone many times in my lifetime, but this year it seems to have particular impact for me. We sit now in the long view of history; able to see the trajectory from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel to the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. But what lies in between and its wake? COINTELPRO, The War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, the extrajudicial killing of Black people by police, and the chilling advent of drone technology.
From this vantage point, it seems to me that the urgent project of our time is figuring out what resistance will look like in twenty-first century and onward. The other urgent project, in my opinion, is losing our fondness and nostalgia for outdated modalities of change, and most importantly, ridding ourselves of litmus tests and the hierarchies they create. Audre Lorde, poet-mother, said, (I'm paraphrasing) that relating as allies across difference, outside of a hierarchy was fundamental to any kind of real sea-change in our quest to live as free beings on the planet earth.
This goal in mind, I'm reminded of something my Daddy says about the struggle. My Daddy grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, integrated his elementary school, and lived through countless traumas of that day. He says it takes a player in every position to get to victory; nobody’s role is more important or necessary than the other. I think about the lead up to the arrest of George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin. Yes, the thousands of protestors surely had their impact, but I think a close look at the timeline will reveal that the New Black Panthers threat to shoot him on sight was influential as well. Don’t you doubt that for a second. Call them agitators, showboats, etc. if you like, but the proof is in the pudding.
The point is... there is more than one way to skin a cat. More to what activism is than the simple criteria provided by the bourgeoisie. People who live in poverty, people who have been the victims and soldiers of the War on Drugs, or mass incarceration, live and breathe the struggle in their everyday lives. Every day survived is an act of resistance inside of an apparatus that has literally been set-up to destroy you. The smallest acts of support are exchanged between neighbors, and friends, and families. These acts are not visible to most of the middle class. These acts don’t come with a name tag, a title, a seat at a table, an invitation to a party, a paycheck, or a 401K. There is really no reward, except love and survival, if you are lucky. I want to thank anyone who looked out for me, so that I could be here to write this, and be one of those lucky ones. This kind of “looking out” is what there needs to be more of, so that activism ceases to be a title, or a club you must apply to join. In this incarnation it is just a way of simply being.
Castigating those whose “activism” does not include or privilege the picket line and other traditional forms of civic engagement, which in America, are often the luxury of a middle class lifestyle, is ineffectual, futile, and dangerous in the modern era. A vision that does not take into consideration the new and all-encompassing project of the transnational prison industrial complex, and state violence, here and abroad, strikes me as remarkably short-sighted. A focus on sanctioned actions of “doing,” as opposed to real deconstruction and opposition to the structures that keep us oppressed, speaks to the worst kind of Black Horatio Alger complex. The omnipotent American myth that a “can-do attitude” is the ticket out of poverty, and in the religion of middle class activism, apparently racism and colonization too.
I hate to break it to those invested in imitating the strategies of those, who gave their actual lives and livelihoods to the causes they believed in, but outside of direct action and a reconstruction of the way money flows in this society, all else is theatre. Literally song and dance. And I’m not motherfucking singing for my freedom in 2013, fuck that. Call me what you want. But my people have been through too much.
I’m not here to, nor can I, give you a formula that can add up to who’s who. It’s far more complex than that. What the path toward true liberation will look like is beyond what is quantifiable. Using your work as a vehicle to demean others, who think differently, or the very community who is alleged to be being served by these sanctioned actions of “can-do activism” is a waste of time. And frankly, thinking about Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Patrice Lumumba, and all those who names we’ll never know; people who gave up their literal lives for the cause, I find this kind of jockeying over whose “real” out here to be embarrassing, sad, and disrespectful to their memories. What Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Wendell Allen, Justin Sipp, Rekia Boyd, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Wharlest Jackson, a list too long to type need more than anything else is people who will NEVER FORGET they lived and how they died…
I love all my brothers and sisters in the struggle, even those don’t love me. Sometimes coalitions fall apart, but that does not mean the death of an idea. Not all of us are meant to run with the pack, and because rap quotes just soothe my soul…here it is…
Humans beings in a mob,
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?
---No Church in the Wild
(Government ID: Kristina Kay Robinson)