By ChrisTiana ObeySumner
The following is a transcript of a speech given on the importance of actionable accomplices in social justice versus philosophical allies in inaction; given at the Seattle Womxn’s March on January, 19th, 2019.
Hello Seattle Womxn’s March! I'm honored for the opportunity to share a message on this MLK Weekend and give a call to action for 2019.
Shortly after I started preparing for this speech, I fell ill and was on bed rest for a week. I took the opportunity to meditate on the state of our society -- Who we are, what we’re doing, and how inequity and injustice continue to perpetuate in this time of civil unrest, blatant violence, and apathetic individualism. I thought about what it meant to be Black, Indigenous, Autistic, Femme-presenting, Disabled, and queer, and ruminated on the malicious foundations and buttresses of systemic, institutional, administrative, and interpersonal racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and antiblackness pervasive throughout our histories, our communities, and our governances.
I want to take a moment of solidarity for those of you in the audience who needs to hear this: You are enough, and you are worth more than your productivity. Your skin, your hair, your melanin, your nose, your body, your dreams, your mode of moving around, your way of communicating, your neurodiversity, your experiences and traumas, your goals, your method of self care, your need for peace and happiness, your boundaries, your gender, who you love, where you are right now in this moment is valid. I affirm you and I love you. Live your liberated truth.
Thursday, in a moment of intense, Kierkegaardian despair, I agonized over what my message should be. Which of these issues do I highlight, what do I amplify? How do I distill this constellation of social injustice and inequity into a call to action worthy of this moment? And somewhere between sweating out a fever and polishing off yet another Hot Toddy, I thought the words of Dr. King, and a line from his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Of those who identified themselves as allies he wrote, “I had hoped that the White moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Whether we consider the meaning of “Law and Order,” literally meaning our public administration and criminal punishment system, or colloquially as the sociopolitical status quo contract in which we are all expected to follow, what I seek to punctuate today is this call to action: I challenge you in 2019 to commit to reconstructing your narrative identity from that of an ally, which is an adjective; to an accomplice, which is a verb.
“I had hoped that the White moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The construct of the ally has become a passive philosophy, anchored by sympathetic inaction, expressed through baseless outrage and self-aggrandizing pontification. It is the 21st century White moderate. Allyship without action is a perpetuation of systemic and institutional violence in complicity. Merriam-Webster defines the verb form of ally as “A combination or unification of a resource or commodity with another for mutual benefit. I ask you, are your actions and behaviors mutually beneficial with those who are being oppressed, or those who are oppressing? Dr. King argues “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability...and without hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.” Bottom line, faith without works is dead.
To be an accomplice is to be a co-conspirator in social justice and equity. The term accomplice is itself defined as an associate in an action commissioned in opposition to the current “Law and Order.” The same law and order that, when they are just, they exist to establish justice; but when they are unjust, they block the flow of social progress. The accomplice seeks to destroy these barriers and lines of oppression in concert with, in service to the fight for social equity and justice. To be an accomplice is a verb that requires action, behavior and praxis, constantly and consistently, over the entirety of one’s lifetime. To be an accomplice means risk, disruption, decentering, and reappropriation of ill-gotten resources produced within the vortexes of privilege and supremacy.
Let me repeat this again: To be an ally is to be someone who unifies resources for the mutual benefit of our current social systems, administrations, paradigms, laws, and institutions. To be an accomplice is to be an associate in action in opposition of these things. Consider the historical, widespread, and devastating impacts of the mechanizations and status quo of our society today, those who are dying at the hands of injustice; and consider where you stand -- are you an ally? Or are you an accomplice?
I am limited in my five minutes with you to give you the full education and armory of tools to transition from an ally to accomplice this year. What I can do, is point you in the direction of the destination and encourage you to establish the benchmarks and find those checkpoints that will help you along your journey. It all boils down to this: Do the thing. Do the thing of dismantling systems and institutions of violence and disrupting the machine of oppression and harm. Seek the truth. And then, critically examine all of the loopholes and admissions in what you’ve been led to believe is the truth. Then, once you think you’ve reached a good understanding of the breadth and depth of the truth, make a lifelong commitment to the praxis of always asking why, fervently dismantle oppression and violence through action and behavior, and remain continuously reflective and open to recalibration and restorying of yourself.
“It all boils down to this: Do the thing. Do the thing of dismantling systems and institutions of violence and disrupting the machine of oppression and harm.”
And in my last few moments with you, I will take the opportunity to both amplify and name here in front of you a tiny fraction of current truths, movements, and issues that need accomplices right now -- either in amplification, support, disruption, or dismantling:
Flint, MI is still without clean water.
The Plastic straw ban is ableist.
The average age expectancy of autistic folks is 36.
The average age expectancy for BIPOC Transwomen is 35.
End stage capitalism is destroying the economy, the ecosystem and the environment.
The school to prison pipeline is a bastion of racialized ableism that criminalizes and institutionalizes disabled BIPOC and we need to do something about it.
Uniontown, AL is still breathing lethally toxic air.
Adultification of Black children is a sin we all must stand accountable for and stop. Right now.
The dynamic between eurocentric and antiblackness informs racism, not the other way around.
Hire disabled BIPOC women. Elect disabled BIPOC women. Place disabled BIPOC women in positions of leadership. Trust disabled BIPOC women. Believe disabled BIPOC women. Pay disabled BIPOC women. Respect disabled BIPOC women. House disabled BIPOC women.
Black lives matter
Sex work is work
Subminimum wage is violence
Nothing about us without us
Housing is a human right
Dismantle the bottoms and the margins
Be an accomplice, not an ally