May 1, 2013
How Are Our Struggles Related?
People often talk about the intersection of oppressions. I propose that it is the intersections of violence that reveal the oppressed and best show how our struggles are the same.
In the past five months the United States has experienced a series of tragedies that appear unrelated. A school shooting in Connecticut by a local teen who was given guns by his mother; bombing at the Boston Marathon by brothers from Croatia; fertilizer factory explosion in Texas.
At the surface, each event appears unconnected, random, unpredictable, separate from us unless we know someone personally who was injured or at risk. Without analysis, they can only be understood in irrational terms, as anomalies in an otherwise fair and just system.
According to Michael Eric Dyson every event has a context and a subtext. Events that rocked America can only be understood and addressed in the context of the systems that engendered them: that the global violence and the threat of violence that holds power in place can come home to roost.
Each of these was a response to different forms of violence: individual violence, ideological violence, environmental violence, and economic violence. These events are linked as blasts of steam from an invisible pressure cooker of economic, cultural, religious, sexist, ageist, classist, racist, homophobic, biased control, stereotyping, devaluing, and commodifying the very essences of life and death, rewarding or withholding privileges based on arbitrary identities.
The story of May Day reveals the need to work together. From 1806-1856, hundreds of thousands people joined the struggle for shorter working hours. Over fifty years. Why are we now in 2013 losing ground, losing our rights? Why did we stop? How do we resist? How do we create lasting reform?
Marshall McLuhan said, “There are no passengers on Starship Earth, we are all crew.” The only way we will reach our visions of a just world will be to get there together. Justice cannot perpetuate injustice:
I will not end violence against women until I end violence in Indonesia as well as Saratoga Springs, until the women with brown skin who are picking our apples and the baby still in diapers are safe, when my Native American sisters and the woman with a disability are no longer more likely than not to be raped in her lifetime. If I work to end racism, people of color suffer environmental racism so I must work to save the environment. People of color suffer from higher rates of disease so I must work to reform healthcare so ALL people can receive medical care, and mental health services, accessible buildings and occupational therapies.
A billion dollar advertising industry teaches us to substitute materials things for what we yearn for most: to exist in full humanity, to achieve to the utmost of our abilities, and most essential of all, to be loved.
Instead it teaches us to judge and devalue: last year’s shoes or welfare mothers, or worst of all, to hate our own noses, the color of our hair or the full swells and bumps of our bodies. Through stereotypes and bias we are taught to be blind to injustice, to reward or deny privileges not equally for everyone, or even based on merit but based on artificial measures like color of skin or who you choose to love or where you went to school. We are brainwashed to consume, our fires burning the global resources that belong to our children’s children in our fruitless search for meaning in tangible goods.
However inconvenient, we must work together across political identities. I cannot compare my oppression to yours. Is it worse to lose your daughter to suicide because she was bullied, or because Pharma will not make the medicine she needs because there is no profit? Is it worse to be denied a place to live or the ability to marry? It is our obligation to fight the oppression that denies us justice and equality. It is just as much our obligation to look at the ways in which our privilege oppresses others.
Our collusion with violence between us always benefits the oppressor. We fight over the crumbs spilled from their table; we agree to compete with each other for the bigger cookie and forget the feast on the table of the 1%. “Fanaticism begins when we redouble our efforts but have forgotten our aims,” says George Santayana.
Each of our suffering is the same no matter the way the injustice is delivered. As the first responders to injustice, we rush toward it; we each share the trauma of every assault. Trauma grips our bodies in the same way and changes the way we respond to each other, to our families, and co workers. To feel that there is no one else who can do this is trauma speaking. To feel isolated, to feel grief, to be unable to make complex decisions is trauma. To fight with our fellow warriors is trauma and benefits the oppressor. Our healing comes in working together, our resilience is found in community.
I am the intersection of oppressions. Do not force me to choose between being a woman, a daughter of immigrants, an artist, a person of color, or a member of the AARP. My struggle cannot succeed unless you win your struggle. The Power of Occupy is that we refuse to be defined by individual acts of resistance on a single issue but to go upstream to find the source and redirect the flow. We must keep our eye on the prize, and know that our struggles are inextricably linked.
A woman named Lila Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time, but if you come because your liberation is linked to mine, then let us work together.”
Only when we acknowledge the humanity and rights of each human being will we have a chance to build a true justice and lasting peace.
Thank you for helping to create that new world tonight!