“So when you want to know good white folks in history where [people of color] are concerned, go read the history of John Brown. That was what I call a white liberal — those other kind, they are que
It is a new year and I’m a year older; I normally take this time of year to digest what has happened, to plan for the future, to consider new paths I want to explore, to weigh the importance of things I have been doing. I look for new role models, new sources of inspiration.
When I think back about this year, I remember the earnestness of the people in my life trying desperately to do something, to make something happen, to affect a semblance of change. I think of my own actions, the subtle and not so subtle forms of resistance — writing, vandalism, billboard liberation, subversive and biased materials in my classes, premeditated encounters with folks I know disagree with me, guerilla theater. These have all been fun, all had their effect. But it is a new year and I am a year older, time’s a ticking and so a new year calls for new tactics, new role models.
John Brown saw 50 years of his liberal, law-abiding, business-making life do absolutely nothing to end slavery, to prevent the spread of it. For most of those years he did what normal anti-slavery proponents did: he stated his disapproval, he gave to helpful charities, he parented against it. Hell, he even moved to the free state of Kansas to leave the apathetic north that refused to pay anything but lip service to ending slavery and so he could simply live his life. He did what most of us do — see the evil and hope it will end, fight it by avoiding it, by turning away from it, by secluding ourselves from it.
But he changed. He happened to be in the epicenter of the Kansas guerilla war between the North and the South. And yes lots of things happened to him, but within five years or so he became the John Brown of myth (and of course lotsa romanticizing). Nevertheless, he decided to go to war against his government, he decided to pick up arms, to rally troops, to fight with deeds and bullets rather than words and money. Here was a man who could have continued to live happily within the confines of “feel good northern liberalism,” like so many of us do today; he could continue to benefit from his privileged position in society, like so many of us today eat, celebrate, work, recreate never once questioning these privileges; yet, he became the race traitor, the one who abandons his team when it is clearly in the lead, the one who recognizes community and connection and fears not the abandonment of riches and privileges. He gave it up and welcomed the salve and the redemption of authentic living. There are others like him that are the traitors: straight people standing with queers in direct action and not just in celebration on Castro street, the whites who attempt to understand reparations, who attempt to see diversity as diverse and multifaceted rather than food fairs and foreign films, men who refuse to let other men tell jokes about or comment on women in any fashion, adults who step in and speak up for youth who are continually demonized by cops, teachers, childless couples, single adult hipsters, anyone who has forgotten what it means to be young. There are others. And then, there’s you. And me.
I think we need to see how it is imperative to support those working for change in any way possible because it is only in the complete refusal to participate in this exploiting and dehumanizing way of life that it will change. It is, therefore, crucial that we support and encourage people to fight back with whatever weapons they want to employ. If you’re a parent, get involved with other parents in the PTA, if you’re a hipster, ride that bike, if you’re an E.L.F. member, burn that fucking condo.
But, and here’s the key, if you’re in the PTA and E.LF. actions come up, voice your solidarity with E.L.F. and the biker beside you in your minivan; if you’re on your bike, smile to that lady struggling to parent with hope and love and share stories with your people about direct action as necessary for change in the same way riding your bike is.
We can’t make the mistake of abandoning militant fighters because we don’t agree with their tactics; this only ostracizes them from their support network and makes them easy pray for FBI and police repression. Look at the Black Panther Party; they spoke of guns and middle class white liberals ran screaming.
Look at what happened in Seattle when anarchists smashed Nike town windows and liberal do-gooders circled the store singing we shall overcome and pointing out the perpetrators. I for one won’t burn a building down, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to recognize the need to change the course we are traveling. By any means necessary.
If you don’t like violence, don’t do it and don’t stand for the violence perpetrated in your name by cops and the government on its own citizens. When you hear about E.L.F. or other militant fighters, recognize the fight’s the same, but the tactics might be different. And we need them all if we are to have the luxury of thinking about how we could choose to live if we had the choice. I don’t know about you but I want that choice. And I want it now.
So this year I want more direct, confrontational actions on my part and on yours. I want you to know that when you step up, I got your back, when you pick up rocks, I’ll pick up rocks; I want us to consider new ways we can become the traitor to the privileges we all have access to. I want you to think of John Brown swinging from the gallows pole and instead of feel fear, feel inspired.
“I may be hung but I will not be shot. But what I will do is this: I will raise a storm in the country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil.” John Brown