Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Veterans in the swamp, hopes in the dumps

In the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Demond Mullins, who returned from heavy combat in Iraq only five months ago, looked out at the ravaged, filthy wreckage in a quiet furry.

"I can't believe this. This is worse than Baghdad. What my country has become sickens me."

-- Christian Parenti, writing March 19, in the Nation

I've been keeping track of James's travels via his blog: these days it makes stiff reading indeed. He's been the documentarian for the Veterans' antiwar march through the wake of Katrina wreckage.

He reports that several of them can't bear to return home after the march, feeling as they do the fierceness of need. am touched by that ache in James's writings. We loose track of the level of misery we stand in so easily. Only a great act of writing or art can wake us up and bring us out of our stupor.

I find it painful, after reading James's blog, to reflect on the state of activism among my own community, the Progressive Christians. True, we're young; true, unorganized, diverse; bound up with decade-long interior arguments. And yet, standing on churches with hundred-year traditions and such thick memberships and such ostensible commitment to the movements of the Holy Spirit, shaking us down to compassion at every sparrows' fall, how is it that we cannot summon a collective or sustained message of outrage?

Is it that Habitat for Humanity and the church soup kitchens, in the end, serve as a paliative to the conscience, numbing appropriate outrage, stilling the noise of condmenation? My family and friends in Texas send their donations and remind me that people are charitable and good.

And then there are the Veterans, months later, standing in the muck, proclaiming it "Still Worse than Baghdad." Quitting their jobs to stay and rebuild. My mood tonight is depressive. If 250 Veterans could change each others' lives, how is it that our thousands of clergy and churchgoers cannot rethink their own?

Taken in purely practical terms, guilt set aside, leave me my passing and moody envy of a talented ex-boyfriend's budding activist career. If 250 veterans could make the Nation and produce a documentary, how is it our ossified institutions of church goers can't think up a compelling publicity campaign, an experience that actually changes the mind of middle class citizens, or an event worthy of news coverage?

Tell me, seriously. I know you read my blog. Have I chosen the wrong group of activists to run with?

Read more cause for outrage and view more distressing pictures of lingering Katrina wreckage at Stan Goff's webpage. Jeff Wells is almost as depresesd as I am.

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Blogger owlindaylight said...

Quoting Stan:

This movement has struggled for some time with several questions. Why are we so white? Why do we have such minimal participation from black and brown? How do we reach out? How can we stop those in power from ignoring us?

We may have stumbled upon the answers to some of those questions by doing what we just did.

Those with some social privilege are always — historically — the people who have the educational, financial, socio-cultural, and organizational advantages available to them to be more effective when they are politically radicalized. When movements are organized around issues like the war and foreign policy, those in the best position to struggle around these global issues are those who are less preoccupied with more immediate issues of survival for themselves and their families. So the privileges of class, race-nationality, and gender are reflected in the very movements that have declared themelves against expolitative power.

In many cases, these movements also reflect a kind of myopia. We have missed the struggles that are going on all around us, precisely because we have a degree of citizenship… we are listened to and taken seriously by the establishment. The struggles we have missed are those that affect those who are treated as less-than-citizens… be they African Americans, Hispano-Latinas, or Indigenous Nations… women, LGBT, young people.

We went to the Gulf Coast and we connected the war aborad with a war at home. Let’s think about what we mean when we say “war at home.” What does it look like, this war? Who is this war aimed against? How is it fought? These are the things we need to know in order to fight back.

In both Iraq and the Gulf Coast, dark people and poor people have been subjected to at least two perfectly similar assaults: the attempt to take their territory, and the attempt to impose control over them as a population.

In our trip across the Gulf Coast, we took a couple of important first steps to deal with the questions raised above. We went to the heart of the nation’s Black Belt. We accepted Black leadership, male and female. We shared resources with African American organizers on THEIR home bases. We met with and formed relationships with everyday Black and poor people in the region. We collaborated with Black folk through the only institution over which they still retain control — the Black church — which is also the locus of African American community organizing. We prioritized THEIR issue, and committed to follow through. And now we have the potential to contest with those in power, in solidarity with the people with whom we have met and to whom we have committed, to defend their homes against the encroachments of what promises to be the most massive gentirifcation project in American history.

10:25 PM  
Blogger owlindaylight said...

My addendum is that the movement should cease placing so much importance on the quantity / quality of media coverage. (Especially if that coverage is of the incestuous variety, a la The Nation.) And it should refocus its efforts away from the closed loop of the blogosphere.

Things occurred on this trip which got no coverage but were far more important than good press. Few of us gave a shit that my hometown newspaper wrote a falsehood-ridden hatchet-job of a story on us, or that CNN was relatively friendly ... exposure wasn't the goal. Creating relationships and testing new modalities of activism was the point.

Stan emphasized the importance of the "A" in the OODA Loop -- seizing the initiative and doing novel things, so as to return to the original "O" with fresh insight. Because our ways had become stagnant. Because obviously our previous actions weren't cutting it.

10:37 PM  

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