Some of the celebrities who attended the March on Washington, speaking to the press. From left to right: James Baldwin, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr.,Photo: Tom Caffrey/Globe Photos Inc.
Cry For Change (by Drea d’Nur)
"Oh Lord, Oh Lord, another brother shot..everybody standing around like they didn’t see a thing."
Her voice, my GOD.
Defiance, Ohio- The White Shore
I will not condemn what anyone did to survive.
But I will not defend a culture that makes us decide. To assimilate or die.
The decision by the Australian Prime Minister to no longer accept refugees who arrive by boat is not a demonstration of power, but of impotence.
What it is not is a sign of a politicised racism among the Australian people. This specific policy is an artefact of political strategy, no more and no less. There is no mass political or social movement calling for the sequestration of refugees in another country. The idea that this is a response to democratic pressures, or a “populist” gesture, is a blasphemy that seeks to absolve the decision-makers by blaming the people. Accepting that would mean renouncing our faith in those around us, and placing it in the those who, in our own names, offer to hold democracy at bay. In the French context, Jacques Rancière writes that this use of populism is no more than the invocation of a “phantom”, where
The essential thing… is to amalgamate the very idea of a democratic people with the image of the dangerous crowd. And to draw the conclusion that we must all place our trust in those who govern us.
There is not any evidence that the Australian people at large are particularly exercised about refugees. There are no public protests against them; the most visible activism is in support of their rights. The mistaken idea that politics is reducible to a series of consumer preferences is partly what got us here, but recent polling on the issue shows that this is the pet issue of a tiny minority. Most voters are far more concerned about a range of issues that governments cannot or will not address. Health care, education, and the protection of local industries are prominent.
We can ignore the faux-pragmatism about swing seats and key demographics and Western Sydney. Refugees are an issue because governments are seeking to resist our most widely-held desires, and oppositions would like to win us over with the prospect of cruelty to a convenient Other. Governments - Labor governments - largely avoid these problems because they no longer have the will or the ability to reallocate resources to our common needs. They will not fight an election on these issues because they would rather not be held responsible for them, and because they live in fear of the prominent voices who would prefer us to focus on anything but a fairer allocation of the riches of a wealthy country. Asylum seekers are a counter in an intra-elite game. They are a simple narrative in a complex society that our media is structurally unable to adequately represent. They’re deployed, more or less, as a troll.
Australia’s professional media, and often enough its “fifth estate” of bloggers and social media users are chronically myopic. This is not only in the preoccupation with day-to-day strategy, but in tracing the cause of every event to some endogenous aspect of Australian politics. This is an analytical limitation that many hitherto-independent voices have come to accept as what it is to be street-wise. But in fact these developments are of a piece with what is happening across western liberal democracies. We are a part of a broader unravelling of any semblance of popular sovereignty. Discussing the UK’s transition to “post-democracy” in an era of globalisation, Jeremy Gilbert writes:
where governments no longer have the degree of control that they once did over flows of capital, labour, ideas, or people, then the capacity of individual national legislatures to determine what happens within their own borders is severely curtailed. Everything from wage levels and rates of inward investment to media content and the cultural makeup of local populations could once be regulated by the state, and now cannot.
As the capacity of governments to manage such broad factors shrinks, they are increasingly likely to emphasise the importance of their capacity to do the only things still in their power: for example, isolating individual scapegoats for social problems and subjecting them to highly visible forms of punishment. In the long-term, however, the ineffectuality of such measures can only generate an increasing sense - amongst both public and politicians - of the impotence of politics in the face of global capitalism. Such impotence breeds frustration, and frustration will manifest itself in various ways: for example, in an increasingly self-serving attitude amongst professional politicians, and a growing resentment of them amongst the people whom they are less and less able to serve effectively.
Social democracy put its faith in the state to solve our common problems. At this point, that faith appears to have been misplaced. The spectacle of leftist and liberal indignation at the raising of Australia’s drawbridge is no doubt a part of Rudd’s plan. (And “self-serving” would be a generous description for that.) But the slowly-building frustration with government will not be so easily dispelled. Like the global movement of peoples, it probably can’t be resolved any more at the level of the nation-state. This realisation makes all that now passes under the name of political debate seem like trivia.
You can stand your ground if you’re white, and you can use a gun to do it. But if you stand your ground with your fists and you’re black, you’re dead.
In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.
If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford. Those that do not, those that hold the pain and betrayal inside and somehow manage to resist violence — these citizens are testament to a stoic tolerance that is more than the rest of us deserve. I confess, their patience and patriotism is well beyond my own.
Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American pathologies: Race and guns, both of which have conspired not only to take the life of a teenager, but to make that killing entirely permissible. I can’t look an African-American parent in the eye for thinking about what they must tell their sons about what can happen to them on the streets of their country. Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.
Jazz club, 7th Ward.
“Do all dudes have one big testicle and one little tiny one?”
Hieronymus asked, hiking up his poodle skirt as we staggered
Down Main Street in our getup of wigs and pink bonnets
The night we sprayed NEGROPHOBIA all over the statue of Robert
E. Lee guarding the county courthouse, a symbol of the bondage
We had spent all of our All-the-Way Lives trying to subvert.
Hieronymus’s thighs shimmered like the wings of a teenage
Cockroach beneath his skirt as a bullhorn of sheriff verbs
Like Stop! Freeze! and Fire! outlined us. The town was outraged:
The red-blooded farm boys, the red-eyed bookworms of Harvard,
The housewives and secretaries, even a few liberals hoorayed
When they put us on trial. We were still wearing our lady ward-
Robes, Hieronymus and me, with our rope burns bandaged
And our wigs tilted at the angle of trouble. Everyone was at war
With what it meant to be alive. That’s why we refused to be banished,
And why when they set us on fire, there was light at our core.
Kenyan student Philip Maundu of Morehouse College, stands underneath a racially discriminatory real estate sign by Ted Russell
There are very few things that truly tear at and rend fissures into your soul. Very few things feel like that Nietzchean abyss, something we stare into that consumes a part of who we truly are. Something that robs of us an element of our humanity, our ability to choose; our ability to think freely. One of the benefits of the deferred power structure of a Democracy is we’re able to in some ways divest ourselves of the consequences of our electoral actions - we’re only one cog in a machine. We’re only one part of the whole and our own choices, our own vote that we chose to cast has, in the aggregate, no real impact. The small lies we tell ourselves even as we cast a vote do add up. There is some greater psychic toll and even if deferred the balance sheets must equal.
What we’ve seen slowly grow over the past few months is a second incarnation of the Pacific Solution. There are really no ifs, ands or buts to be made about it and any equivocation by ALP flacks and hacks is just that - rationalisation. Overturning this policy was a key plank of Kevin Rudd’s campaign in 2007. Ending the Pacific Solution and entering into a humane regime of onshore processing was the cheered endlessly by the ALP’s base. It is bordering on a Beckett play to see those who would have uproariously condemned the Pacific Solution from 2001 - 2010 now praising and upholding the current ALP Government as ‘courageous’ for reinstating a policy they swore to destroy. Many have called it pragmatism, pragmatism in the face of substantial loss of life on the seas as people have taken whatever means necessary to come to Australia. There is no escaping the death toll, hundreds have died trying to find a better life. The ‘pragmatic’ response though has been anything but. When a boat crashes on the rocks you don’t burn down the lighthouse.
There are thousands of displaced persons in Indonesia that the system is simply not working for. Were they guaranteed an orderly and efficient queue the ‘people smuggler’s business model’ would not exist. People smugglers exist out of necessity, they infect a vacuum where traditional routes simply are not working. The idea of waiting 5 years in Indonesia in squalid conditions with no guarantee that where you are staying tonight won’t be burned down by the police tomorrow tends to make people think about their options. If our politicians were serious about destroying the people smuggler’s ‘business model’ they’d provide a simple and easy alternative, but posturing is far more important than actually improving people’s lives I mean we’re talking about lives here and every extra second spent rationalising policy we’d have spat on 24 months ago is vital.
We have a moral obligation to fulfill our duties to those seeking asylum and we have the resources and people to help make that happen. It isn’t difficult to see that providing a safe, efficient and swift pathway from Indonesia to Australia is squaring the circle. The Pacific Solution worked inasmuch as it existed in a situation where diaspora wasn’t as prominent. Enacting a similar solution today is like treating septicemia with a betadine rub, it’s certainly not a panacea. With the consequences of our foreign policy and military expeditions overseas coming home to roost it’s time to decide as a society that we want a better and more humane solution. One better than TPVs which purely tell people to not get too used to safety. We need to provide a better path for families to come here. We owe it to the world.
I don’t want to be part of a society that tells kids too young to be charged by our own legal system that they’ll die behind bars because ASIO said so. I don’t want to watch a young mind that should be free to create, to explore and to engage with what is the pure magic of childhood slowly crunch through that moral calculus. I don’t want to be a part of a society that has to tell a woman who will never breathe free air because of this system that her only child hung himself because the empty promises of the next life offered the potential of freedom they had been so coldly denied in this one. I don’t think my soul can take it. I’m certainly not sure what material the constitutions of those that rule us are made of, but it seems that their consciences are deeply ensconced inside something impermeable even to the blood and suffering of their fellow humans.
I can’t stop crying
I think the notable lack of appetite for news stories in which white frustration is vented by firing bullets into brown bodies is not because that passtime is viewed as eccentric but because we think it’s on the way out. Stories that exemplify this are viewed with the same relieved disinterest as communist party politics in Russia, c. 1991. Perversely, the fact that we believe we can ignore shame, ignominy and collective guilt to death is the very thing that nurtures despicable fringes everywhere.
The finite westwards distance which had previously permitted Americans to flee the status quo is long run out. A fact that bends our continuing flight into a cycle.
These sentences have a shake in them, a tremor, a flashback. There are so many words I can’t arrange on this screen because lips that would speak them are sewn shut.
To come this far, for an extraordinary rendition to purgatory.
We wait, for the blood to flow. Wait for hunger strikes. Wait for riots to start, for beds to burn, for a man to jump from the roof, for a body to hang from bedsheets. Wait for first words from babies that never come, because their whole family is mute with depression and trauma. Over and over and over again.
The siege of waiting.
Here is my essay on racism.
And may you walk on air by Vanessa Huang
In memory of Shaima Alawadi
What of the way of this world
wild and wavering?
I imagine Fatima’s
you, the silent scream/ of an illegitimate voice
and the terror words knotted
in such rigorous execution.
When you’re returned to Najaf and we’re left
with neighbors in close-knit ceremony
eyes gaping, mouths staring
the sounds of El Cajon’s ghostcattle carry
and we are
still at war.
I rest in knowing
All wars are useless to the dead
as breath grasps
alarm of this ordinary
the iron’s tired grip:
What of this frozen hand,
child lost in shatter
beneath the troped silence?
After Adrienne Rich’s “Implosions” and Costanza Knight’s “And They Would Walk on the Air, Like Climbin’ on a Gate” (image above, from Costanza Knight’s website), with language borrowed from Rich’s “Cartographies of Silence.”