Re-Dreaming America (Thoughts on Charlottesville & Atlanta Anti-Fascist Rally)
There is a lot happening in America right now. I think this is true on any given day. However, it feels increasingly like we are taking solid steps to create a significant cultural shift. We are revisiting ideals of civil rights explored and exploded in the sixties in a way which has the potential to create solid and lasting change. This is not to say that changes of the sixties were not solid. Yet, I grew up in 80s and 90s America with the distinct feeling that, as soon as we’d ended overt segregation, welcomed women in the work force, allowed evolution into science classes and cleared the path for divorce and abortion, people with a mind to fight for human rights kind of leaned back on their laurels and coasted through a psychedelic revolution, which ended in either destructive chaos or complacent retreat into the comfort of the American Dream, which looked a lot like having 2 children, stable employment, a picket fence and a dog. The common refrain through all this seemed to be something like: Embrace your uniqueness and live your dreams as long as they do not upset the status quo in any major way. Everyone is entitled to a good life, but nothing is perfect. Make the most of the America you have. It’s better than it used to be! Work hard enough, and anyone can go far.
Around the time my generation of Xennials graduated from high school, the twin towers fell, and our adult lives took root in a time of war. We learned through direct experience that employment and benefits are not guaranteed for any of us by virtue of skill, social status, determination or education. It feels like this has meant clinging more tightly to how we self-identify apart from our professional titles. At best, this means taking time to explore our individual authentic selves and to flourish in creative endeavors unique to us. At worst, this means clinging so tightly to cultural identifiers-like race and religion-that we become a violent force stopping at literally nothing to exert the power of our identity at the absolute expense of all others.
A limited number of extremist views can exist within, and contribute to, the balance of a healthy society. However, when an extremist position moves into the mainstream, balance becomes offset in critical ways which deeply endanger the existence of any group. In my opinion ,American culture has been normalizing extremes long enough that it is now in critical condition and showing symptoms.
Donald Trump’s presidency is a symptom.
Police brutality is a symptom.
The recent violence within Virginia is a symptom.
In particular, the death and injuries left in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, represent both the prevalence of racism and of the propensity to de-humanize anyone who holds a different world view. Specifically, I’m talking here about the white domestic terrorist’s ability to de-humanize the people he deliberately struck with his vehicle when he drove into a crowd of people who disagreed with his assertions of white supremacy and radical nationalism.
Meanwhile, I also recognize that white supremacists, radical nationalists and neo-Nazis of all stripes can make the claim that they too are being dehumanized by Antifa and others who explicitly condemn their actions. To this I say, white supremacists are not being de-humanized when they are being held accountable. Accountability can look many different ways. Personally, I disagree with those who say accountability is eye-for-an-eye condemnation. However, I also disagree with those who say accountability looks like prayerful peace. And, if I have come down squarely on one side or another, I’ll stand with the Antifa crowd before I’ll stand against it.
Accountability requires direct action: Sometimes that is marching in solidarity with others against violence, shouting with the beat of a drum that you do not accept what supremacy has done and that you are not afraid. Sometimes accountability looks like hacking a website and exposing the personal details of closeted supremacists. Sometimes accountability looks like removing or re-purposing artwork and monuments designed to celebrate historical victories which have come to look a lot like fascism.
Accountability can be as simple as signing petitions and labeling white supremacists as domestic terrorists when you speak about their actions. It can also be as complicated as dismantling and re-assembling the very systems at the bedrock of society which have allowed covert forms of extremist ideology to become the status quo. One of these systems is the prison-industrial complex. Connected to that, is the war on drugs. Revolution in these areas will do a lot to end racial profiling, modern day slavery and the stereotypes which accompany these practices now. Another system in need of changing is that which allows politicians to buy their power and to bow without consequence to industries, like oil, which threaten the survival of our species by ravaging our land.
Linked to these systems needing change are abstract concepts connecting the mind, body and spirit of society as a whole. Specifically, our view toward religion, science, art, philosophy, education, gender, race, relationships, work, money, neurological divergence (including mental illness), drugs, morality, healthcare, technology, capitalism, heritage and identity itself are due for an upgrade, so to speak. We use these ideas to create stories which communicate the shared values and goals of our culture, and many of the current stories have devolved (or are presently devolving) into dogma, which harms all of us by enforcing stigma rather than honoring our inherent humanity and all its unknowns.
Contributing directly to dismantling destructive human systems while shifting cultural norms to reflect and contextualize this restructuring is a goal of my personal activism. I write and teach to educate, introduce new ideas and spark discussion bringing about actual change. Sometimes, I also boycott, sign petitions, make calls and march. Sometimes I do this alone. Other times, I include my children. To a degree, I feel their long-term well-being relies on exposing them to current social issues, showing them firsthand the circumstances their generation will have to collaborate with my generation to change. I also want them to see that, when something happens to directly counter my personal morality and threaten what it means to exist within a country I do love despite its glaring faults, I take direct action to voice my dissent and to draw awareness to the need for change-even if imperfectly.
To this end, my family participated as a group in one of Atlanta, Georgia’s, recent rallies against racism. It began before sunset at Woodruff Park on Sunday, August 13. Activists gathered on a pavilion, behind a memorial to the victims of the Charlottesville violence, and spoke about the need to combat hate with more than love alone. There was an open mic to the public, and my 9-year-old daughter spoke. Her focus was, arguably, the importance of love across race lines, yet the crowd did accept her warmly despite some differences in rhetoric. I felt very proud as a mother that she was brave enough to share her voice. For me, showing up at the rally was equivalent to what I wrote on her poster (pictured above): Our presence there meant we stand with C’ville, which in turn means we support a better way for all people to exist together. It is, in my opinion, not a time to defend or destroy our collective history but rather to acknowledge, as objectively as possible, who we have been, while creating new stories about who we are and will become.
After the rally, the crowd departed Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta with signs and flags held high, marching to the beat of drums. We shouted chants-against Trump, against supremacy, against hate, for democracy and the power of the people. My 6-year-old alternated between walking himself, resting in my arms and riding atop my husband’s shoulders. My 9-year-old walked boldly forward the whole way, her poster in her hands, but felt exhausted by the time we reached the destination at Piedmont Park. There, the crowd gathered around a statue, representing peace at the end of the Civil War, which the march’s leaders adorned with chains and some streaks of red paint. It seemed the intention may have been to pull the statue down; however, a piece fell off injuring two demonstrators. A few marchers, my husband included, circled around the monument and the injured leaders, as one lone police officer joined the scene and announced quietly that no arrests would be made provided that the statue remain standing. The statue stood. No arrests were made. The crowd dispersed.
By the time the vandalism had started, I had already walked my children to the sidelines of the event. Marching itself had felt empowering and focused in a way I hadn’t experienced even at the Women’s March on Washington, DC, but the energy upon arriving within Piedmont Park felt different than the energy on the journey there. I commend Atlanta as a city for the total lack of violence Sunday. I also commend the demonstrators for knowing when to evaluate the circumstances, make a sound judgment call and stand down. However, it does strike me as a bit bizarre that the targeted monument was one representing peace.
After much consideration, I feel the value of vandalizing that specific monument was to show that the peace and progress brought about by the end of the Civil War has been an illusion. In this case, the chains and red paint symbolize the pain, bloodshed and institutionalized prison-based slavery which continues in the present day and will no longer be complacently accepted. This is an important message, to be certain. It also symbolizes the willingness of the Antifa and its supporters to fight, if necessary, for the freedom of all groups oppressed by a society which continues to normalize extreme prejudice. Perhaps these metaphors could have been better expressed via some radical performance art or via the creation of an entirely new structure giving voice directly to our contemporary concerns. However, those projects may be better realized somewhere along the horizon. Change has to start somewhere, and I feel the positive impact of what we asserted on Sunday in Atlanta exceeds the negative. I’m honored to have been there.
As the future unfolds with more supremacist rallies and counter protests to come, I know I will attend some anti-fascist demonstrations and sit out others. However, I’m undeniably struck by the importance of art to the rising revolution. What we all create and boldly share has value now. Thank you for reading my stories.
Originally published at http://bugsbooksbeauty.blogspot.com.