To: The Most Prominent Symbol of a Dying Breed
I’m just trying this on – not necessarily to buy or lease – but I’m realizing that one of the major arguments against the “burn it all down” position is that those who are already the most marginalized would almost certainly be the most vulnerable during the turmoil, however short or long it might be. In theory if the oppressive, racist, sexist, extortionist capitalistic system were overthrown (and something else – but what? – were put in its place) it should mean that eventually the circumstances of the most oppressed improve as the means for life, liberty, and happiness are more equitably distributed. But if the currently entrenched powers that be behave as they normally do, then it’s not a sure thing that all that many in the currently oppressed camp would make it through to reap whatever benefits might come from the revolution.
Your old friend, Frederick Douglass refused to sign onto John Brown’s 1859 plan to take Harper’s Ferry (with only 22 men) with the goal of inciting a massive slave rebellion because he feared that not only would the attempt fail, but the fallout for Blacks would be grave (from J. Lepore’s These Truths book). Wikipedia notes that Douglass called the mission “suicidal.” We know now it was indeed suicidal; Brown ended up getting himself executed and most all of the others involved were killed during the failed raid. And we also know that the attempted revolt, led by an impassioned White man, made life even more of a living hell for enslaved and free Blacks throughout the country. Of course we have no way of knowing how things would have tracked had Brown gone about his activism in less violent, disruptive ways, but Douglass’s fear that this “burn it all down” approach would backfire on Blacks was clearly well-founded.
The contemporary person who is inspiring my reconsideration of the raze it and start over approach to social change is Representative-elect, Cori Bush, of Missouri – the first Black Congresswoman to represent Missouri (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/cori-bush-blm-congress-demofrats-squad/2020/12/21/556ac9f4-3cad-11eb-9276-ae0ca72729be_story.html). Bush is a Black Lives Matter activist who lives near Ferguson where unarmed, teenager, Michael Brown used to live before he was shot and killed by police officer Darren Brown. She was instrumental in keeping the protests going and keeping the focus on police brutality against Black and brown people as more and more of them were murdered by police. And come January, she’ll not only be serving Missouri in Congress, but she’ll be serving all of us as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. So great!
This was Bush’s third run for Congress and she did it after recovering from Covid, which started in March and has left her heavily in debt as she had quit her job as a nurse to campaign full-time. This snippet of information provides only the barest glimpse of what she’s been through. Bush is only 44, but the sketch of her biography in the WP article linked above reads as though she’s already had several full, distinct lives and now she’s launching into a whole new chapter. I’m so glad she’s got some sisters to connect with when she starts in a couple of weeks (really, they appear to already be well-connected, so that’s good) – Pramila Jayapal, AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley. Here’s a quote from Tlaib about her:
“Cori is not a person who is seeking out leadership because of the title. She is someone that sought it out because she was tired and exhausted, as she would say, of watching people do nothing to help those that are hurting the most.”
Maybe, just maybe we’re finally to the point where there will be a critical mass of kick-ass activist women in the House and we can get some shit done.
May we be safe to speak up and to step up.
May we be willing to take risks on behalf of those who are hurting the most.
May we be strong, kind, and woke.
May we accept that we need to work inside and outside the halls of power.