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Flinging Joy in the Face of Oppression

On Fighting Tyranny at Every Turn

flinging joy... collage of a sticker of Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator, plus a sunflower and paint.

I wrote the essay below in mid-September of 2023.

This was before I heard about mass displacement and genocide in Darfur and Congo. This was before I knew about another displacement and genocide of Armenians. This was before Hamas attacked Israel and took hostages that are still not released, and Israel responded with ongoing genocidal force.

But I wrote it during too many other ongoing atrocities: The random, ongoing killing of Black Americans. The murder of trans women. Missing and murdered Indigenous women. Climate disaster…

Every day, the world is filled with horrors too numerous to count. It is incumbent upon us to show up and help each other, in as many ways as we can. It is incumbent upon us to speak truth to power. It is incumbent upon us to face down the machinery gaining profit from death and destruction and say, clearly, “Enough. Let this death and sorrow be enough. Let us live.”

The ground is watered with blood and oil and too many tears. No corporation should profit from our anguish. No military or government officials intent on slaughter should sleep well at night.

Choose one thing. Speak up. Show up. Do what you can, when you can, where you can. And notice joy where you can find it.

And now…the essay:


Fighting tyranny seems heroic. Larger than life. Sometimes it is. But mostly? Fighting tyranny requires both collective effort and individual change.

First, we confront the tyrants in our hearts and minds. Almost all of us have those bullying voices, trying to keep us small and afraid.

Second, we find ways to counter tyranny at every turn. The unjust actions. The brutal words.

Confronting tyranny is an act of hope.

Confronting tyranny is an invocation of a better world.

***

Right now, protestors in Atlanta Georgia are being charged with terrorism and racketeering because they have decided the only remaining urban forest in the state is more important than another training facility for militarized police.

***

Challenging tyranny begins when we examine our fears and prejudices.

We challenge tyranny by confronting our inner misogyny, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and our fear of poverty and illness.

We challenge tyranny by embracing the power of flow and change.

We challenge tyranny by dancing in the light of the moon.

***

A comrade I haven’t seen in years just died. He lived a simple yet extraordinary life. Father Louie Vitale fed and clothed people. He gave them places to sleep.

Father Louie also went up against the corrupt systems that forced these people into poverty in the first place. He was repeatedly arrested for disturbing the false peace that protects the status quo. He went up against warmongers, polluters, and weapons makers.

He challenged the status quo every day of his life, by simply living the way he saw fit.

***

We can live as we see fit, in our own power, and in our own time.

Tyranny is challenged by our thoughts that refuse to make enemies of our friends.

Tyranny is challenged by refusing to mark another person being as subhuman.

Tyranny is challenged when we question why eight people have more money and resources than eight million.

Tyranny is challenged when we insist that our communities are important, more important than the stockpiling of gold.

***

Sophie Scholl, along with her brother and friends, drafted a series of pamphlets enjoining the German people to stand up against fascism. To not succumb to hatred. To not go along with the machine that ground too many bones to dust.

They were executed for the simple act of distributing pamphlets. They were executed because words have the power to change hearts and minds.

Tyranny does not like that.

***

Tyranny is challenged with ever kind word. Every refusal to back down. Every racist, sexist, queerphobic, or anti-trans statement challenged.

Tyranny is opposed with every garden planted and every resource shared. Tyranny is challenged with every anti-fascist sticker slapped on the back of a street sign. Tyranny is challenged when we remember we can take care of each other.

***

At a recent concert, Janelle Monae enjoined us all to choose love, over and over, and to share pleasure. Because insisting on love and pleasure are direct challenges to tyranny.

We must live, and live well.

***

Words challenge tyranny. Actions challenge tyranny. Emotions challenge tyranny. Art, music, and theater challenge tyranny. The stories we tell can either support or tear down tyranny.

We challenge tyranny when we allow ourselves to rest. We challenge tyranny when we revel in pleasure. We challenge tyranny when we insist on being alive, as we are.

Love and defiance challenge tyranny.

We can fling joy in the faces of those who would seek to oppress us.

***

Books are banned. Whole classes of human being are made illegal. Immigrants drown. Children are punished. Workers are exploited. The earth is ripped to pieces, sold off to the ones with the most money or the loudest shareholders.

***

We challenge tyranny when we examine our assumptions. We challenge tyranny when we refuse to call the cops on noisy neighbors. We challenge tyranny with every block party thrown, every clean up organized, every fascist faced down in the bar or on the street.

We challenge tyranny with every union organized and every worker collective founded.

***

I’ve had reviewers complain that my fantasy novels are too filled with politics. You know what that means? I was making visible things that they wanted to remain invisible. See, that’s another way to challenge tyranny: To name things properly.

***

To name race, gender, economic class, and sexuality out loud is to challenge the tyranny of the ruling sects who want to keep us silent. When we are silent for too long, we become complicit in our own oppression and in the oppression of others.

Naming is a powerful magical act. Let us name ourselves and listen to the names of our communities.

***

Charlie Chaplin fought tyranny. Audrey Hepburn fought tyranny. Josephine Baker fought tyranny. Tommy Smith and John Carlos fought tyranny. Ida B. Wells fought tyranny. Nelson Mandela fought tyranny. Dorothy Day fought tyranny. Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé deLarvarie, and Sylvia Rivera fought tyranny…

***

Everyone who fought tyranny in the past also worked to build something better. A place of art, and music, and movement. A place where their friends could be free.

Fighting tyranny is something we can do every single day.

It starts by noticing that the world is a beautiful, complex place. It starts by centering around love.

To fight tyranny is to say, “We are here, and we shall not comply with orders or actions that diminish us.”

To fight tyranny is, to quote Emma Goldman, to insist upon “freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

Who’s with me?


 

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