In 2009 we see our institutions unmasked, from Gaza to Oakland to Tennessee
This originally appeared in WireTap Magazine and later Znet.
My heart hurts.
14 days into 2009 and what a year it’s been. Recent highlights include a young unarmed black man who was placed onto the ground, with his hands behind his back, shot and killed by an by a white police officer in an Oakland BART station; levees breaking in Tennessee, flooding communities with a billion gallons of toxic coal ash that is 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill; and of course, the unrelenting assault on Gaza that in the last 19 days has claimed the lives of 919 Palestinians, including 384 children and women. Not to mention an economic crisis that has precipitated the layoffs of paid organizers around the country – many of my friends finding themselves unemployed, and important organizations (like COV records) needing to close their doors.
My tattoo says "tzedek" which means "social justice" in Hebrew, and embodies a long history of civic engagement and solidarity with oppressed peoples within the Jewish tradition.
As a young Ashkenazi Jewish man, I’ve been particularly shaken seeing some members of my Jewish community attempt to rationalize or justify the murder of children, the use of illegal biological weapons like White Phosphorous, and blocking of humanitarian aid. I feel unsafe as a Jew in a world where militarists and demagogues commit genocide and pretend it is in my name or the name of my people. What is happening in Gaza is a political, not a religious conflict, as decried by Jews around the world who stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine (including some of the most religious and traditional Hasidim). Even Jon Stewart took a political risk in condemning the attacks.
What links many of the above events is their overt brazenness. The massacre of Palestinian people, wanton environmental destruction to power our fossil fuel addiction, and police shootings are certainly not new phenomena, and are a logical extension of many of the way our institutions function. But what is both remarkable and terrifying is how naked and unabashed these recent horrors have been.
Oscar Grant was murdered by police in front of a full BART subway car, as onlookers filmed the entire thing. Dozens of youtube videos were up within hours for the entire world to see an unarmed cooperative man shot in cold blood. There was no attempted justification, no way to sweep it beneath the rug. It was in plain sight.
The attacks on Gaza were done in a manner that produced millions of heartbreaking photos of the carnage circling the globe in an instant, accompanied by graphic descriptions from international doctors in Gaza. What is happening right now is not a “war” – it is, after penning people in a cage, starving them and depriving them of all basic resources, blowing apart entire communities in what is the most densely populated area of the planet. That the Israeli government claims that this is in retaliation for Hamas rockets is a transparent joke, as more Palestinians died in the first 5 days of the assault than Israelis did from the last 5 years of rocketfire. And now the Israeli Right Wing political parties are attempting to ban Arab parties from running in upcoming elections. Its almost as if they wake up in the morning and say to themselves “how can we further delegitimize ourselves, make Jews around the world less safe and more hated, and kill as many brown people as we can in the process?” Massacres are no stranger to the Israeli military, but this kind of action with this kind of visibility marks a new chapter in the “we do whatever the fuck we want and don’t care what anyone thinks” book of the conflict. It’s all in plain sight.
The TVA coal ash spill, while not covered by the media very extensively, again reveals the extension and overt consequences of longtime policies that had previously been easier to cover up and hide from the public.
So what is this all about? It seems like 2009 is in many ways a year of honesty. Our institutions are unmasking themselves and behaving in ways that perhaps have always been typical, but are often sugar-coated with a smiley face on top. No more pretense or sugar. It’s been amazing to me how many people lately have been talking about how in the face of increased resource scarcity, economic collapse, and a climate crisis that threatens the very survival of our species, the major institutions in our society are freaking out. Like a convulsing creature gasping for breath, they lash out and crush things around them, revealing how they really are. There is a growing understanding that “continuing business as usual” is the most unlikely and unrealistic of all futures we could chose.
There is of course, a whole lot of reason to hope. For real, I’m not just saying that to end on a positive note. I have been walking with deep gratitude lately, not just for my own life, but for the courage of regular people across the globe. People around the world are organizing in response to these tragedies and are joining a new wave of political activism and organizing worldwide. I’ve seen more conversation and public debate about these issues than ever before (even if its often among Palestinian and Israeli friends on my facebook page over my status updates). The progressive shifts in our country and internationally are still strong – and if anything, strengthened – by these tragedies, as we have an opportunity to more clearly put our finger on the roots of our problems and join together to fashion just and sustainable solutions.
Stay involved. You can find great Gaza updates at War Times and End The Occupation, plus a friend’s commentary at Shadia Fayne Wood’s blog. ColorofChange.org is running a campaign for Oscar Grant that you can support online here. Stay up to date with the TVA Tennessee ash spill at itsgettinghotinhere.org. You can also buy “Gaza on my mind” shirts as a fundraiser for medical supplies.
Also, War Times has spread the word that The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has developed on online Resource Center at www.adc.org. This new tool, designed to serve as a primary source of information, incorporates several resources on the Gaza attacks including:
- A factual timeline of the events leading up to the Israeli attacks.
- Reliable articles on the situation in Gaza.
- A list of UN responses and statements on the tragedy.
- A list of credible media sources.
- A continuously updated resource on the numbers of killed and injured.
- An instructive link on contacting the media about the tragedy in Gaza.
- An instructive link on contacting elected representatives including President-elect Obama.
- A list of protests, rallies, and vigils taking place nationwide.
Thats all for now.