Tuesday, December 01, 2009

health & accountability...some thoughts.

Here I am, sitting in my old bedroom in my parents’ house (a privilege for sure), thinking about “accountability.” Why? I guess because lately, my health has made accountability difficult, even when it comes to the struggles that I see as the driving force in my life (I know, I know, that sounds extreme... but it's accurate).
And because there are certain spaces where the question of accountability is always sitting there, in the room, a frame, a finger tapping our shoulder, whether the word is spoken or not. Except that’s not quite right. Because “accountability” is not a question, it is an aspiration. Not even an aspiration, that would feel more do-able. It’s a requirement. One I often feel I can’t live up to because of my health. If it were a question, the whole thing might be different.
The thing is, something odd happens in terms of health, accountability, diagnosis, and confession. If we get a diagnosis (read: rely on the Western Institution of Medicine) and confess (read: buy into structures of Christian Cultural Dominance) then perhaps we have an “excuse,” and we aren’t unaccountable people, just people struggling with health issues (read: perhaps slightly inferior by nature, but it’s not our fault). It just feels like there has to be another option. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for a system where we forget about accountability altogether. I’m just saying there has to be another option. There has to be. And don’t get me wrong about this either: I’m not blaming our movements or organizations, not at all. The structures of U.S. society are infused with these systems, among SO many others. They are insidious. They are difficult to locate. They are even more difficult to challenge.
Sometimes I’m afraid to critique these systems- “Western Medicine” or “Christian Cultural Dominance” (a phrase often repeated by one of my professors that I now find myself using in everything, even my poetry). I fear that my critique of these systems will “take away from” my critique of racism & White Supremacy & Israeli Apartheid. I have to remind myself this is absurd. These systems are all woven together. Sometimes I think capitalism might be the thread…but no. Weaving doesn’t even have a thread, does it? I mean, it’s all the thread. And besides, I think the idea of trying to locate one “thread” is dangerous.
This is conjuring an image for me, of the yarn that changes color as you knit or crochet. It looks different, but it’s all attached, all part of the same ball of yarn.
(I don't know if I could speak or write if there was no such thing as metaphor. The world would be so much more difficult to understand. And it's already really difficult to understand.)
But I wasn’t talking about yarn (or metaphor). I was talking about health, accountability, diagnosis, and confession. How I’d prefer to un-weave some of these.
I was reading Adrienne Rich today. Yes, even though I’m sick. Some authors are easier to read when I’m sick, the ones whose words resonate, make sense on a level that doesn’t require the most apt mental capacity. Those who embed poetry into their prose. Those whose ideas just make sense. Maybe that’s why when I first read Marx with a fever of 102 I still kind of “got it” (to the extent I’ll ever get any economic theory).
Adrienne Rich wrote an essay “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish identity.” I’d like to make an addendum to this essay & talk about Zionism, but that’s a little ambitious for me when I’m feeling this sick. For now I’m just going to quote her. She talks about accountability, and she frames it differently than I’ve heard it framed before.
In her last paragraph, she says:
“This essay, then, has no conclusions….It’s a moving into accountability, enlarging the range of accountability. I know that in the rest of my life, the next half century or so, every aspect of my identity will have to be engaged. The middle-class white girl taught to trade obedience for privilege. The Jewish lesbian raised to be a heterosexual gentile. The woman who first heard oppression named and analyzed in the Black Civil Rights struggle. The woman with three sons, the feminist who hates male violence. The woman limping with a cane, the woman who has stopped bleeding are also accountable. The poet who knows that beautiful language can lie, that the oppressor’s language sometimes sounds beautiful. The woman trying, as part of her resistance, to clean up her act.”
Why does this resonate with me?
I think it’s the embrace of contradiction, the idea of being ‘comfortable’ without conclusions.
The idea that accountability & “every aspect” of identity are inextricable.
And the talk about language, of course, that always gets me too.
But I think mostly it’s the idea of “enlarging the range of accountability.” What does that look like? What does that mean? I don’t know, I have no conclusions either. It’s just something I’m thinking about, despite this incessant headache.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

the revolution will not be quanitified

Quick update, 'cause I don't remember if I mentioned this on this blog or not...
I'm in grad school now...I started a week ago.

Now, on to what I actually wanted to say...

In one of my classes yesterday, my professor told us about how, after presenting testimony she had collected in Indian-occupied Kashmir, one audience member asked if she had any solutions to the problem. She didn’t, at least, not in the sense that he was asking. She talked about how the work we do isn’t always about solutions or quantifiable results (I’m definitely paraphrasing here). Sometimes, we find liberation in the process of struggle itself. Especially in terms of testimony, sometimes it’s the memory, the stories, & the way we honor them, that is important.

As much as I try to “be here, now” in the classroom, I cannot walk anywhere without carrying my dedication to certain struggles & to social justice in general right in with me. So, I started thinking about movements. I started thinking about how we’re taught to organize – how we’re taught to organize our organizing in linear processes that – supposedly- achieve concrete, quantifiable results. Often, however, we don’t strive for this because the specific concrete, quantifiable results are the ones we want most – we do it because we look for a “winnable” goal. Supposedly, “winning” keeps people motivated & inspired to stay involved. But, does it? Really? I don’t think that’s true. Sure, everyone loves to win...but losing a supposedly “winnable” struggle ALSO happens and that can be really de-mobilizing. Even if we do win, then what? It’s true that in the BDS movement, we list our victories over and over, so we maintain hope that there will be more in the future. But we can also find victories that are less quantifiable. This is certainly true for Break the Siege – conversations, when tabling, often feel victorious, when someone agrees to sign the pledge card when they weren’t initially sure, etc. And what about the other victories that we can’t quantify...the victory inherent in the creation of an organization that genuinely strives to combat oppressive dynamics within itself, in addition to fighting for justice outside? The victory in the idea that we can apply a community organizing model (a.k.a. base building) to Palestine Solidarity organizing? We talk a lot about recruiting new members, and of course this is important...but what about honoring the fact that there are people involved that have been involved for SO many years?
So, then I started thinking about how this model – the “quantifiable organizing results” model- seems to me to be directly related to the non-profit industrial complex & the power of the foundations & funders. They’re the ones who’ve been asking us to quantify our results, aren’t they? The NPIC is trying to force our movements into a corporate mold, whether that’s the overt intention of the funders & foundations or not. It makes me wonder, how much does the NPIC influence us, even when we’re not receiving foundation money, just because this is how we’ve been taught to structure our movements and our lives? What would it look like if we were to redefine victory? What would it look like if we were to redefine change? Redefine hope? I mean really, is victory all that gives us hope? Can the struggle itself, and the relationships we build within the struggle give us hope? Can the fact that we’re still trying to achieve these BIG goals (like “Free Palestine!” “Abolish prisons!”) give us hope? What about art, poetry, and the sharing of stories (the painful ones, but also the entertaining ones)? And clearly the idea that what “people” (whatever that means) need to maintain hope is NOT actual change, because look at Obama- he said “hope” over and over and it mobilized people and brought them out to the polls. He hasn’t changed much, if he’s changed anything at all. But that didn’t matter when it came to inspiring “hope” in people. He just had to say the word over and over again, remind us that it was important.
...Anyway, I could go on and on about all the other ideas that school has thus far inspired me to de-construct, but if I do that, I will not be able to finish my reading and go about the rest of my day. Which I should really do, because life is not just school, and the rest of life is important too. It’s also not just school & activism/organizing. I have to remember that.
My book of Hafiz is still near my bed...actually, it’s not my book, it’s Z’s book that I borrowed. I think I will keep it there for a week or so, before I give it back, and make sure to read a poem every night. Even if it’s one I already read. I want to remember that “academia” isn’t the only place where this kind of thinking happens, and theory isn’t the only place where intense, important ideas are expressed.

Oh! And so, as I was typing this, I got the following article in an email...ironic, isn't it?
Read: Did Leviev's Empire Succumb to Boycott?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"You are pure soul and made of ground"

"Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.
Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that." --Rumi, Secret Places (from the book 'Bridge to the Soul')

Since Saturday, I've been reading a lot of Rumi & Hafiz. I don't know why...but something about their poetry feels like breathing.
& I've been thinking about this distinction: Love vs. Reason. Body vs. Mind.
in that first excerpt, Rumi seems to agree with that idea that they are separate.

Then again, in another poem, Rumi says
"You are pure soul
and made of ground

You are eyeshadow
and the kindness in eyelight."

Lately, my mind & body have been feeling particularly separate. It's interesting to me how that distinction & our critique of it often leaves out the whole idea of "soul." Maybe "soul" is what happens when they merge. But I don't think so. I think it's more complicated than that. Not that I know what I'm talking about. What I do know is that lately, the only thing my mind & body seem to have in common, besides existing in the same space (most of the time) is that both are completely at the mercy of my emotions. Which, as seems to be the trend when it comes to absolute power, are playing all kinds of games with the rest of me. Ah, life.

And, as if they weren't already disconnected enough, in two days I start grad school. Don't get me wrong - I'm excited. Just a little nervous...
And then there's the part where I'm also a little exhausted. I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to take this AMAZING anti-racist training program AND start grad school in the same semester. And then at the same time, I don't want to give up either of them. Not that I have that option, since I've already committed to them both, but even if I could, I wouldn't. What I want is to be able to fully immerse myself in both experiences. Of course there are other parts of my life that would continue to exist, and I'm not saying I don't want that too. But these are both new experiences that I want to cherish and remember. I want to journal about my experiences and realizations in Anne Braden AND i wanna talk about how I feel about returning to academia, how I feel academia is both useful AND problematic, how it might (and might not) be able to relate to grassroots movements, etc. But how do I do that when I'm also trying to do all the reading for both, and actually stay adequately engaged in both? ...And as I said, these are not anywhere near the only two things in my life. They are just the two newest ones. Hmm...

My body is overwhelmed by all this & got sick, so now I'm dealing with that too.

Not that I'm complaining. Just processing. There is a difference.
Mostly, I'm excited about all the things in my life.
Well, I'm not excited that I'm sick right now, but besides that.
*deep breaths*

One last poem, this one's by Hafiz:

Dropping Keys

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the Beautiful

Friday, June 12, 2009

brief passage from Edward Said

I have been reading a lot of Edward Said since I got back from Gaza.

This is a particularly notable passage I read today (from 'Secular Criticism'):

"The degree to which the cultural realm and its expertise are institutionally divorced from their real connections with power was wonderfully illustrated for me by an exchange with an old college friend who worked in the Department of Defense for a period during the Vietnam War. The bombings were in full course then, and I was naively trying to understand the kind of person who could order daily B-52 strikes over a distant Asian country in the name of the American interest in defending freedom and stopping communism. 'You know,' my friend said, 'the Secretary is a complex human being: he doesn't fit the picture you may have formed of the cold-blooded imperialist murderer. The last time I was in his office I noticed Durrell's Alexandria Quartet on his desk.' He paused meaningfully, as if to let Durrell's presence on that desk work its awful power alone. The further implication of my friend's story was that no one who read and presumably appreciated a novel could be the cold-blooded butcher one might suppose him to have been. Many years later this whole implausible anecdote (I do not remember my response to the complex conjunction of Durrell with the ordering of bombing in the sixties) strikes me as typical of what actually obtains: humanists and intellectuals accept the idea that you can read classy fiction as well as kill and maim because the cultural world is available for that particular sort of camouflaging, and because cultural types are not supposed to interfere in matters for which the social system has not certified them."

...I'm thinking about what this means for me as a "writer"...
But I'm also thinking about Edward Said as trying to "naively understand" something. It's weird. I think of him as this incredibly wise, brilliant man who couldn't possibly have ever been "naive" about anything -
But he too once wondered what could possibly bring a person to order daily bombings.
He probably came closer than anyone to actually figuring it out- by turning away from the psychological question, of course, and towards a systemic, political one...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On Strategy & Humanity...

In Gaza, every step, every potential action taken, alliance built, poem written, essay published, word spoken feels significant. Important. Needed. The desperation is palpable, & therefore contagious.
Now, I question every step that I intend to take. What will have an impact? What matters? How can we really confront Israeli Apartheid? What is the purpose of sharing these stories? Does anyone want to listen? Will anyone hear?

I’ve been crying every day since I returned and I chastise myself for the time I waste in tears.

Then, I come across a website like this:

And I remember: people aren’t strategy. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s strategic or useful to mourn- it’s respectful.
And when the all powerful US-Media-Government-Military-Industrial-Etc-Complex tries to deny a People’s humanity, they deserve a little extra respect from us (regular people) to make up for it.
So maybe crying isn’t strategic. Maybe returning, time and time again, to the look in Farah’s eyes, the sight of her mother’s blood splattered on the wall, the words of the old woman who told us that taking pictures wasn’t enough & asked for food, water, and for their homes to be rebuilt, the grafitti in Hebrew on the wall of the home that warned “next time will hurt more”- all these images & more- maybe returning to them is not strategic.
That doesn’t mean it’s not important.

So yes, let’s take action, build alliances, write poems, publish essays (okay, I don’t know how to do that, but I still think it’s a good idea), and speak words and REMEMBER, whether we’ve met them or not, the stories of the people of Gaza. And let’s do so in a context of strategy & impact. AND also- let’s not forget about respect. Let’s not forget that people are not statistics. Everyone has a name. Everyone has a story.

Monday, June 08, 2009

...I rarely share poetry that isn't polished, and this one's barely been edited once...
but it's the first thing I've written & completed since I came back from Gaza, so I want to share it, not as a poem so much as stream of consciousness with intentional line breaks and a little bit of rhythm.

I also want to share the photo of a little girl whose family's story, to some extent, inspired this not-quite-poem. Of course it wasn't just their story- it was all the stories- but her story stands out to me, for some reason.

The girl's name is Farah Abu Halima. I didn't take the photo, someone else on my delegation did.
Farah is 3 years old. Her body is covered in burns from the white phosphorous that hit her house. She lost many family members. Her mother survived the attacks & the two of them went to Egypt for medical care. Her mother died in Egypt, and Farah returned alone, still not cured of the burns. Looking at her, I could see that she was still in pain. She is the little girl that did not smile. For some reason it makes it all more intense when I think about how the name "Farah" means "joy."
...Farah's mother's blood is still on the wall of the house. So is white from the phosphorous & black from some other kind of burning. At least I think that's what it's from.
It's hard to remember all the details. I'm glad that some people from my delegation wrote everything down. When we were there, at this particular house, I couldn't think about much except for Farah. The way she kept looking at me, but, when I looked back, turned away, every time. The way that at 25, I'm probably about the age that her mother was. The way my maternal instincts (that I've always claimed I didn't have) kicked in & I wanted to care for her. The raw quality to that feeling that helped me understand what people mean when they say things like "It's not Fatah. It's not Hamas. It's not anything. It's just a child and a war." A child and a war and a fractured family, missing pieces that will never be found. And yes, of course, an illegal occupation and an illegal siege and an illegal war and an illegal State and a racist ideology...but mostly, in the moment, it was just this little girl. I still cannot stop thinking about this little girl.

here is the not-quite-poem:
Reality isn't.
Can't be.
Not like this.
In reality, buildings do not crumble,
fields do not bloom with rubble,
little girls smile,
and old men die before their daughters
grandmothers before their daughters' sons
so Reality isn't
Can't be
Not like this.

Or perhaps,
Reality isn’t.
Can’t be.
Not like this.
In reality, buildings do not stand strong,
Fallic and infallible
In reality small stores do not shelve nine types of pasta,
sixteen flavors of yogurt,
or twenty-four varieties of wine,
In reality,
One cannot rely on
The government
Or electricity
To work for them consistently
Reality isn’t
Can’t be
Not like this.

Politicians strive for reconciliation
Speak of two-state solutions,
And draw borders on paper with omnipotent pens,
Make promises in pencil
Erase them later
When no one is looking

I strive to reconcile too:
My life with yours
The children I’ve never had
With the little ones you lost
Here with there
With everyone
And everything

I strive
I cry
My tears
With yours

Video: What We Turn To

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Last day in Gaza...

Tonight is my last night in Gaza. Tomorrow, we meet the fishermen (whose boats are targeted by Israeli pirates- official government pirates of course, but still pirates, as one member of our delegation pointed out), then meet with anLother NGO, then head towards the Rafah crossing and back to Cairo.
I am not ready to leave. It's not that I want to stay. "Want" is not the right word. I don't know the right words. One woman said, "Sometimes I think that words are not made for what we go through." Maybe that is why I don't know the right ones. How can I write when my notes are disjointed, one thought after another, hopeless/hopeful, emotional/detached, metaphor mixes with reality until the line would almost certainly be blurred for anyone that hasn't seen and/or doesn't know the extent, the truth, the reality of the horrors that have happened here.
But perhaps the blur exists because reality is blurred as well. People's eyes glisten with leftover tears when they smile and tell the story of their struggle with pride. The light of creativity shines through the cracks of the destruction, but no amount of creativity can rebuild a house in a sustainable way when the siege prohibits construction materials- even though that creativity CAN make a mercedes run on batteries (which apparently it has).
And yet people survive. Continue to struggle. Continue to live.
I am fairly certain I had a very similar sentence in my blog when I was in the West Bank. I am impressed. I don't know if I could do it. I think I would break.
One woman said "All people are brave here," when someone complimented her personal bravery. She is right. I know that the answer to "how?" is "They have no choice." And I know. But when I ask "how?" I don't expect an answer. The answer isn't the point, it's the question that matters. The validation of the struggle and the strength. The recognition that while we might explain things to ourselves, and listen to story after story of terror, we will never truly understand how they feel or how they keep going despite all this...not just living, but resisting as well, although of course, "to exist is to resist," so I suppose it's all the same.
I will write more later. I will write about the fields that "bloomed" with the rubble of houses - of homes. I will write about the farmers who cannot farm without being shot because of the "buffer zone" that, of course, the Israelis put on the Palestinian side of Gaza, which is already so condensed, so overpopulated, and where some of the most fertile land is right on the border. I will write about the fishermen who cannot fish because the gunboats shoot. The families who lost their homes - and there are so many. Those who lost a member of their family. The marks white phosphorous left behind on the walls of peoples' homes- and on peoples' bodies. And I will write about how people organize here, provide services to their community, some people who return, despite the fact that they got out, because they do not want to abandon their home or their community. I will write about all this and more - just not yet. I'm not ready to elaborate. All I have are notes, thoughts, feelings, and, like so many people who have lived this or just witnessed it, leftover tears. Perhaps with those tears, the words will come. Later.