We’re in it.
This is our King Leopold time. This is our Adolf Hitler time. This is our General Custer time. This is our Henry Kissinger time. This is our Trail of Tears time.
It’s all happening now. It’s been happening. Have you been awake to it? Have you listened to the canaries in the choking coal mine?
Yes. Currently in the US there are thousands men, women, and children packed in stinking, freezing, burning, concentration camps. They are raped and tortured, suffering and dying.
Yes. There are also thousands of men, women, and children being tortured in prisons and jails. Being shot in the streets.
Make no mistake. Prisons, concentration camps, deportation, xenophobia, police violence, and the cash bail and plea bargaining system are all part of the same, filthy rotten system.1
For every image of asylum seekers in cages, there are images we don’t see of people in prison, forced to drink toilet water, suffocated until death from pepper spray they weren’t allowed to wash from their faces, tied to chairs, beaten, murdered, starved, isolated, brutalized, raped, locked in freezing conditions, or conditions where temperatures are barely survivable for the human body.
For every recording of children sobbing unconsolably for their parents, there are stories of parents trapped in a jail cell, often held under violent conditions until trial––which may take years––after which they’ve lost children, jobs, homes, and sometimes their lives.
These stories and images are blips on the radar even for those of us who are paying attention and are never seen by most. Why? Because we have been led to believe the government propaganda that says people in jail or prison are “bad” and “deserve punishment.” Oh, same is true for poor people. They deserve it because they lack a work ethic, or a strong moral character.
Anyone who is paying attention knows that none of these claims are true. We’ve been duped.
We let others suffer so that Omelas can enjoy its dubious prosperity.2
Or at least the .0001% can.
Yes. We need to reunite the families and close the camps, and we needed to have done so yesterday. We need a real resistance to storm the prison barricades. We need our Willem Arondeuses, our John Browns, and Sophie Scholls.
Freeing the isolated children that tug at our heartstrings? That’s complicated, because finding their families is paramount and we need people with the wherewithal and courage to do so. Sending these children off to foster care or adoption? That’s another form of genocide. Ask any First Nations or indigenous person. They have direct experience.
Oh, and think antifa are the real fascists? Think again. Start wondering why police and politicians want to frame antifascists as violent while giving white supremacists and fascists run of the streets with knives, guns, and cars.
Before strategizing for further resistance, we must look at the systems that have kept so many of us comfortable for far too long at the cost of far too many. If we continue to ignore systemic violence, any changes we make now, will fail in the long term.
We cannot just close the concentration camps and go back to ignoring the prisons. We cannot take care of ICE, BPS, and DHS and not talk about dismantling the police. We have to talk about our systems of poverty and oppression. We cannot just ignore the cost of supporting billionaires who profit from the sweat and blood and suffering of millions, because there is simply no other way to hoard that amount of wealth. Jeff Bezos, the Walton family, Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, Travis Kalanick and others of the hyper-wealthy class all make their fortunes from suffering, including: actively supporting militarized policing of Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities, contracting with ICE, contracting to kill people more effectively in foreign lands, making money from prisons, straining local economies, or exploiting and abusing workers.
We must re-evaluate our values. We must, as journalist Peter Dunne said, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” And right now? That means gauging the high cost of our own proximate ease and examining ourselves. How much comfort are we are willing to give up so that others may be free?
We must insist that this current world order change before there is more suffering, and before all of us die. Human caused climate change? Part of the same interlocking systems. Afflict the damn comfortable.
Those of us who slept during the Obama years? Who thought protestors and activists were a nuisance? Who blame all of our current problems on Trump? Who say, “If only Hillary Clinton had been elected, we’d all be at brunch”? Those of us who did that, or do that? We have to figure out that we’ve been duped into complacency by people who would just as soon we all were locked up, enslaved, quiet, or dead.
Just because you speak English, or have fair skin, or live in a decent home, doesn’t mean you aren’t disposable, too.
We need a stronger resistance, operating on every level. We need to hook up with organizations and activists that have been begging us to pay attention for decades. Look around you, they are everywhere. Find an organization local to you. Seek out the people who have been doing this work, particularly grassroots organizers and activists. Find a way to plug in. Reach out to community. Train. Learn to grow food. Learn to defend yourself.
We need to organize with our friends and neighbors, to train and strategize.3 We need to look to all of the resistance movements that fought fascists from the ground up. We need to look to the uprisings and rebellions led by enslaved people, and by colonized people like the Mau Mau and the members of the American Indian Movement. We must study the likes of Franz Fanon and James Baldwin, read about Patrice Lumumba and Toy Purina, the Berrigans and Idle No More.
We can organize. Strategize. Educate. We can widen our circles of influence. We can shut up if we need to, to learn to not speak over those who should have the most say in this fight. Then we can speak up to challenge the comfortable, be they friends, families, politicians, religious leaders, or corporate heads.
We can insist, loudly, that the social order as we know it must change.
We need to not only storm the fences and help free the imprisoned, we also need to be prepared to rebuild this society from the ground up. And we need everyone, in every facet of the work.
Do what you can. When you can. Where you can.
Follow the leadership of those most affected by the current situation.
Strategize for a more just and equitable society.
Love and support each other.4
Solidarity is key.
Stay in love.
Don’t go back to sleep.
1 to paraphrase Dorothy Day.
2 see The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
3 See the work of Community Ready Corps, The Anti Police-Terror Project First Responders and others.
4 to quote Assata Shakur
I wrote this essay after the Lights for Liberty vigils that happened across the US on July 11, 2019. I finished the essay just hours before I saw the news that 69 year old Willem Van Spronsen was shot and killed trying to disable the GEO buses that transport immigrants at the Tacoma Washington ICE Detention Center. These are, indeed, troubling times. We all need to make a decision about where and how we are going to show up to help.
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