Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve Rant

I planned to spend tonight working on my novel. But blogging is so much more instantly gratifying. Novel writing is sort of like potential communication, like sending an echo down a well. Blogging is more like yodeling - you never know what anyone's going to make of it, but they're going to hear it.

This is the first time in three years that I'm not spending New Year's in jail. I thought I'd be happier about that.

It's not that I wish I were in jail. It's not that I'm not happy to get to go out to the movies with my friends. It's not like if I were sitting in jail I would be accomplishing anything, but I would be accomplishing most everything I could. Last year's New Year's felt like a promise of what I would do when I got out. Thinking about the past year feels like a catalogue of what I didn't get done - my novel, my films, ending the occupation (or any of them), putting a dent in capitalism, organizing a mass action to shut down Guantanamo Prison.

If I were in jail, I could think that was the reason I couldn't fulfill my dreams. Being supposedly free, I have to acknowledge my own limitations, and the limitations of my situation. Which of us is truly free to act as we wish we could? We are limited by our fear of seeming nuts, and we are limited by our fear of losing whatever security we have, we are limited by our inability to persuade others that what we want to do is right and possible, we are limited by our self-doubt and self-critique.

I am limited here by my status in a way that I was not during the time I spent in Palestine, and I think that is what I liked so much about being there. There, I didn't have to try to "fit in" to anything, because there was no way that I could. My role was what I decided it was, and there wasn't really anyone to tell me different. Here I usually feel like a collection of privileges I didn't ask for but am generally happy to use, or at least happier to use than to give up. The privilege of being a U.S. citizen with no felony convictions, the privilege of a good education and a well paying job which gives me the privilege of a nice place to live and money to spend on things I want to do, the privilege of health which enables me to do most of what I want and not expend a lot of energy getting from place to place, the privilege (or not) of being mainly invisible thanks to white skin and middle-age, the privilege (or not) of not having anyone who is dependent on me.

I was just reading about an acquaintance's experience doing "invisible theater" in Harlem. Invisible theater is something I used to do a lot of. It's basically a way of creating reactions by coming to an ordinary situation with a heightened level of intention and awareness. It occurs to me that internationals in Palestine are basically doing invisible theater all the time: just our presence there creates a reaction in nearly every situation. Simply my walking out on the street would inevitably provoke a response, from Palestinians, from soldiers, from settlers. My watching someone changed their behavior. Just being there was doing something.

Here that's not the case. Provoking a reaction can in fact be much harder than one imagines, especially if you are already invisible. (As I alluded to a minute ago, it is a little-known medical fact that most women as they pass 35 start to become invisible. Apparently, you slowly lose pigmentation in your skin until you are completely permeable to light. I don't know why no one has done research on how and why this happens, it seems like it could be marketable in some way. I think that groups of middle aged women should specialize in sabotage, because we would be impossible to stop. You cannot catch someone who is invisible. A couple years ago, an old woman scaled Windsor Castle during Bush's visit there. She was hanging off it with a banner for four hours before anyone saw her. I guess prolonged exposure to high altitudes causes some effect where you start to reflect light again.) People are so wrapped up in their own worlds here, always rushing around, especially nowadays with the explosion of iPods and other things that enable people to inhabit the same space without actually being in the same world, that sometimes even pretty intense actions fail to attract attention. Years ago (pre-iPod), a group of 50 or so AIDS activists took over a big shopping center in the middle of San Francisco and started setting up a social service center in the lobby, and almost no one even noticed.

Being a U.S. citizen who sees and feels the need for real change is an enormous and sometimes overpowering responsibility. It takes either a huge stroke of luck, or an extroardinary circumstance combined with extraordinary courage - Cindy Sheehan, for instance, has found a way to tap into the collective consciousness (she still has that MAW invisibility though, GWB has never seen her even though she's camped out at his house) - or enormous talent, which, unfortunately, I am not blessed with. It also takes an inspired community, and that I am frequently lucky to have. What I'm not lucky enough to have is anyone who makes me feel really special, who loves me more than anyone else, or maybe it's that I don't have the personality to inspire that kind of feeling, but there's always hoping.

In August 2004, after visiting a family whose son had been killed when he inadvertently handled some kind of unexploded ordnance, I wrote in my journal, "I keep trying to tell the people here, the world does not act because people are suffering. The world acts because suffering people are demanding action -- demanding by resisting. It is the resistance that enables people to see that the suffering is not inevitable, not a natural disaster, that it has a human cause that could be ended."

The last year saw human caused natural disasters of unparallelled proportions, one wiping out the images of the last. Here in the States, the hundreds of thousands killed by the tsunami in Asia are forgotten as we suffer with the millions of displaced, disappeared and unaccounted for in the Gulf Coast. Two months ago, experts were predicting that a massive death toll in Pakistan (where a mere 80,000 people died in the earthquake) if international aid organizations could not figure out how to get food, shelter and medical care to remote regions. I never heard if they did or didn't. I just looked online and the only current information I found says that 90% of the tents people are staying in are "not winterised" and that winterised ones are expensive and difficult to get.

Americans responded to the suffering with charity, a noble instinct. But the resistance which would enable people to see that the suffering is not inevitable, which seemed about to explode, remains uncongealed. I just got a card from a friend, one of the lucky few who has been able to move back to New Orleans. She asks that everyone write/call/fax your Congresspeople and tell them New Orleans deserves to be rebuilt. I would add, tell them it can't be rebuilt as a city with a quota on Black people.

A small group of activists I have been meeting with just finally ended a year-long process of looking for a name. (I didn't meet with them for a year, I only started attending recently, and I claim some credit for bringing the name discussion to a timely end). I want to usher in 2006 by shouting our name from the rooftops (is blogging the 21st century equivalent of shouting from the rooftops?) in hopes that we can fulfill its promise this year:


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