It has been very hard for me to write this, my head is full of voices, parallel thoughts, ideas and emotions churning tumultuously to the point that I just want to turn it off.
But there also is a feeling of urgency and a desire to communicate this and a profound fear of what happens when we as oppressed peoples speak our truths.
At an event today held by Felicia Mings, we watched a documentary about Patrice Lumumba. He was the first Prime Minister of the Congo after they 'gained their independence from Belgium' (for any First Nations folks, folks from the Caribbean, South or Central America or from Africa, you probably know first hand why there are quotations marks around that heavily loaded statement). He like so many who came before him and after him, he like the Mohawk of Kanesetake or the people of Haiti had the audacity to speak the truth. He denounced the atrocities of a country who built themselves on the backs and bathed in the blood of the People of The Congo. A country that instituted policies where Black Africans not meeting their quotas around the production of rubber would have their limbs chopped off. He would not stand idly by while Belgium attempted to rewrite history with themselves as humanitarians, as stewards of civilizations and with the Congolese people as 'incapable savages' unable to govern themselves as individuals much less their massive country. And for this and in his attempt to salvage an unsalvageable, inherently oppressive regime, a regime destined to crumble - not because the People Of The Congo failed it, but because it failed them; he was brutally murdered.
Can we blame these leaders who attempt to work within these systems and who are then made martyrs by the colonial powers? We may know that 'master's tools cannot dismantle the master's house', but there is no purity in this system, we do what we can. There is no outside, we are survivors, perpetuators and perpetrators at various times in various spaces and perhaps all at once.
But that isn't the point.
I watched X-Men Origins today with Nabil. (Promise no spoliers) And one of things that the movie explored was the complexity between Professor X's approach to activism and Magnetos. Professor X was definitely on the "Forgive them father, for they not know what they do" tip. He preached understanding, forgiveness, non-violent action and faith. But what the movie also shared was some internalized self-hatred and a desire to make himself and all mutants invaluable to the humans in the hopes that they would accept them. Whereas Magneto, a Holocaust survivor had suffered directly at the hands of 'men doing their jobs' and had no reason to trust humanity, believing that if they had to make themselves useful in order to be accepted, the moment they were deemed no longer immediately useful, that they would be exterminated.
Nabil and I thought about the way that Malcolm X was demonized for being unwilling to trust a group of people who hadn't yet shown themselves to be trustworthy, but Martin Luther King believed that someone had to trust first, had to forgive first, had to love first and he was asking us as the truly powerful ones to do that.
When I first started doing this work, although I didn't know it at the time, I did it in part because I wanted to be accepted by White people, by Straight people. I wanted people to acknowledge me as smart and valuable. I want to be invaluable and I thought that would grant me safety, it would protect me and allow me to protect others like me. I wanted to be recognized as equal and I would sit in workshops while people said horrible things and I would understand and absorb. I would put myself aside while listening to homophobic and racist things and I would remember the context of the situation that we were in and I would forgive, and I would explain, and I would love.
Now a decade later,
1. I have learned that 'forgiveness' cannot and should not happen without accountability. The order may change but they both must be present.
2. I learned that no one can grant me equality, acceptance. I know that even if they gave these things out, you couldn't pay me to take it from the powers that be. And here I am paraphrasing what Alexis has said, 'we are not valuable because of what we produce, what we create, who we entertain, or how well we pretend to be happy'. I am valuable as I am a child of the universe, no less than the sun or stars themselves.
3. I have learned that there is no I, there is a we and the change that we are manifesting today, is not the change I was fighting for then.
Today I am profoundly disappointed in the non-profit industrial complex that I am part of in Toronto. I am tired of being funded to provide the social services our government is meant to provide, to provide the education that our school system is meant to provide, to act as a consolation prize to a system that is/has failed us and has gleefully lied in our faces the entire time.
I am insulted by the 'core service review' being conducted by the Ford Government; by a process that asks people if they would;
a) Like to privatize hydro
b) Want to keep it public
c) Don't care as long as the service is good!
And in a society where it is painfully cool not to care, where the voices of people who know better are routinely ignored in favour of the people who have the most money - this 'review' process is a joke. It is a tokenizing process where we will fight and watch as our essential services are turned over to institutions that not only can't run at a deficit like the government can, but in fact their primary purpose to continue in perpetuity to increase profits and at the end of it all, we will be told that in fact we were consulted.
I am angry at a system that sets us up to fail, invests money into a sector without supporting the development of real skills, pushes us beyond all reasonable capacity so we don't even have the mental space to innovate and then blames us when we haven't met our three year plan. And despite their inability to morph into successful social enterprises, expects us to do so while solving poverty, racism and making a series of documentaries and 'zines about it without owning any resource that we can leverage.
I am outraged at a government and a country that has never been able to hold itself accountable for the injustices of residential schools, for Japanese internment camps, and an education system that effectively ignores all of the work made by people of colour historically both their forced and voluntary contributions all while defending their 'lily white' reputations as peace keepers on the global stage.
There is a quote "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." And I say fuck that, fuck a system that tells me that darkness is something I should be afraid of. And in fact we know that we are powerful beyond measure, and we are not afraid of this, but the colonizers, the appropriators, it is them who are afraid, who teach us to be afraid of our colours, of the Red, Yellow, Brown & Black, of the boundlessness of our Genders, and our Sexuality. They teach us to devalue our roles as farmers, as stewards of the land, of the knowledge that is indigenous to our people all so they can take it from us.
A small example: urban sprawl. Cash-poor, POC, Queer & Trans folks are all encouraged to move to the cities for the jobs and the liberalism and the everything. And we do, we come in droves because in the rurals, we have watched the lands become factory farms, and in our home countries we have been persecuted and in our islands we have watched slavery morph into indentured servitude and yet again into sweat shops. Meanwhile they move to the country and buy cottages, and they move to Trinidad and they buy the beach I played on as a child and we live in apartments the size of closets, and freezing cold basements and on the corner of King & Dufferin.
I could go on. We all could. And you know who I am speaking about when I say we.
And we are demanding (and I say we because this is built on conversations and experiences I have had with so many of you) is a change. And we have been demanding a change historically, consistently, fearlessly.
But my question is about now and here in Toronto, what are our demands? And family, can we come together at the same table and make that list with the knowledge that we have the power in numbers, in knowledge, in culture, in creativity, in innovation?
What would it look like if all of us non-profits and community organizations united and demanded funding for capital, for buildings, for infrastructure and to not just to be exploited through project funding? We need to have resources in order to leverage, in order to sustain this work that in truth needs to be done by millions.
What if we refused to be young leaders, refused to be picked off and groomed and fawned at? Instead we chose to leave no one behind and everytime we are individually invited to any table, we consulted with our community before and after to ensure that all of our interests being met. And if they weren't, then we would not go, because our precious energy is meant to be used somewhere else.
What if we practiced community accountability? If we didn't kick out of members but instead held them and ourselves accountable for the mistakes that we made and we did so out of love and not shame.
What if we demanded the education that we are entitled to? What if we went back to our high schools, elementary schools and the school board and demanded to learn about Audre Lorde, and your Granny, and the battle of Tecumseh and wouldn't leave until they taught us and all of the other kids?
No one should do it alone, that is how we become martyrs.
My question, family, is 'How do we do this together?'