Have a Good Time

July 28, 2010

what the New Yorker doesn’t publish

For starters, this letter:

To the Editor,

While I was glad to see praising reviews of poets Rae Armantrout and Anne Carson in recent issues, I was somewhat disturbed by their contents.  Dan Chiasson says that Armantrout is the “best poet of the [Language] group” because she “takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go.”  This ideological attack on experimental writing is repeated in Meghan O’Rourke’s review of Carson’s “Nox,” when O’Rourke says that Carson’s “singular gift” is complicated by “a postmodern habit of pastiche and fragmentation,” which O’Rourke calls “so much formal detritus.”  Not all critics have to be behind Language poetry or formal experimentation, but to praise a Language poet and a formal experimenter for all they do that isn’t subsumed by those categories is a shockingly brazen party-line statement of what is and is not acceptable in poetry.

It’s no surprise that a reviewer unsympathetic to Language poetry would only find praiseworthy the least Language-like elements in Armantrout’s work, nor is it surprising that a reviewer unsympathetic to formal experimentation would only care for Carson as a traditional lyric poet.  What is surprising, and troubling, is that the New Yorker would print what amount to polemics against Language poetry and experimental writing in the form of reviews that pick out their outliers for praise.  And in drawing the line where they do, excluding most Language poetry and experimental writing, the New Yorker obviously also excludes (for example) explicitly political poetry or poetry by people of color, which receive even less critical attention.

This is obviously not as important as the New Yorker failing to cover, say, Gaza* (nothing in the print edition since a shocking Lawrence Wright article in November 2009–which might be worse than not covering it at all–and very little before then); and that in turn is obviously less important than the actual situation in Gaza.   But the very rare and selective eye towards poetry reflects the same deep ideological biases as the Gaza coverage.  Similarly, the New Yorker‘s poetry predilections are mere instances of the broader biases of Official Verse Culture, which themselves only reflect more pernicious forces of reaction and white supremacy. Perhaps I am overstating, but for me at least, the New Yorker has a profound role as an arbiter and definer of culture and politics. Presenting the ideological as neutral, even as it is of course ideology’s oldest trick, must be resisted!

* Nothing on Oscar Grant.  Nothing on SB 1070.  Two brief stories on Sean Bell, one making fun of how black people speak, and one round-up of musicians’ responses.  These kinds of stories on Sean Bell are emblematic: the New Yorker casts attention away from police violence making language and political music the real story.

July 9, 2010

What would justice look like? Thinking about Gaza and Oscar Grant

On July 6 Israel announced “justice” for the massacre of 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza:

The staff sergeant accused of killing at least one civilian faces a manslaughter charge. Beyond that, the military said a battalion commander was indicted on suspicion of deviating from “authorized and appropriate” army behavior and from an Israeli Supreme Court ruling when he authorized a Palestinian man to act as a kind of human shield by entering a house where militants were sheltering in order to persuade them to leave. […]

In a third case, the chief of staff ordered disciplinary action against an officer who ordered an aerial strike on a militant involved in launching rockets. The man was standing outside the Ibrahim al-Maqadma mosque, the army said, and the shrapnel caused what it called unintentional injuries to civilians inside. The Goldstone report said that an Israeli projectile struck near the doorway of the mosque, in northern Gaza, during evening prayers, killing at least 15 civilians who were mostly inside.

The military said that the officer had “failed to exercise appropriate judgment,” adding that he would not serve in similar positions of command in the future and that he had been rebuked.

In addition, the chief military prosecutor ordered a criminal investigation by the military police into an airstrike on a house that held about 100 members of the extended Samouni family in Zeitoun, a district of Gaza City.

On July 8 the verdict of “involuntary manslaughter” was announced in the Oscar Grant trial.  This is the Ella Baker Center’s response:

However, with the verdict of involuntary manslaughter, even with the gun enhancement, the jury has decreed that Mehserle will receive a sentence of five – fourteen years. Giving up a handful of years of his life seems like a small price for Mehserle to pay for the fact that nothing can bring Grant back to his loved ones.  Given the long history of police brutality against members of our communities, describing what happened to Oscar Grant as anything less than murder feels not only inaccurate but also a missed opportunity to affirm that violence against communities of color, especially when inflicted by the police, is unacceptable. When you can watch a video of a young, unarmed Black man being shot to death at close range, calling it anything less than murder feels gravely injust.

No one in the Palestine movement, I think, was much interested in the Israeli military court findings about the Gaza massacre, or surprised by the obvious injustice of, for example, a demotion and a rebuke as punishment for 15 murders.  The boycott/divestment/sanctions call, five years old today, is for “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”  And that might not be all we should demand.  The Oscar Grant murder is a reminder that legal equality does not mean an end to the injustices, economic and otherwise, that racist systems bring.*  But at any rate, it’s clear that an Israeli military court is not where justice will be found: it will come from the struggle led by the Palestinian people.

So while I’m horrified about the verdict in the Mehserle trial, I’m trying to remember: real justice will never come from a court that’s very much a part of the system that contributed to the crime.  Here is more from Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center from before the verdict, my emphases added, and worth considering for Palestine as much as for Oakland:

On New Year’s day 2009, Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the back, that much is clear.  What’s less clear is what justice in this case should look like.

I am clear that Mehserle must be held accountable.  But that alone is not justice.  Locking him up won’t give Oscar Grant’s daughter her father back.  It won’t give his mother the chance to see her son continue to grow.  And it won’t take away the terror in the hearts of black and brown boys when they are stopped by police officers this summer.  A guilty verdict for Mehserle won’t make up for decades of police brutality, racism, unequal justice, exploitation, racial profiling, or socio-economic systems that are rigged against the poor.

I have been an activist for far too long to think that sending someone to prison ever sets things right.  Prison adds damage-to-damage and trauma-to-trauma. We don’t want prison to be the only option for young folks who make mistakes. Is it really the only answer for police who make mistakes?

At the same time, Oakland Police and leaders are preparing for the worst – riots to erupt in Oakland, civil unrest- if the verdict of the trial absolves Mehserle. The media is more interested in the idea of cops facing off against the community than uncovering the problems of the justice system, police accountability, and racism at the root of this case. Furthermore, the resources being spent to address this possible unrest would be better used in addressing the distrust and strained relations and trust between police, community leaders, young people and residents. It’s as if the authorities in our community expect the worst from us, planting seeds of fear which could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, rather than investing in true community safety and system reform.

In all the media hype surrounding the trial and the cops vs. protester coverage, something is lost.  That something is healing, transformative justice.  How do we transform the system that recruited, trained and armed Mehserle and thousands just like him?  How do we change the fact that police and civilians alike see young men of color as threatening? How do we build a powerful social movement and not just participate in one-off flash mobs?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we have to take to the streets. I am down to march, chant, rally, block an intersection, commit civil disobedience- what ever it takes.  But not just to make myself feel better. When we take to the streets, we should be saying what we want, clearly and resolutely- not just point out the problems but also demanding the solutions. I know too much to protest the sky, to mistake commotion for motion.

That is why we are supporting Emergency Leadership Forum. A gathering of young leaders from through out Oakland, organized by our allies at Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising.  The four-hour Leadership Forum will inform youth about the status of the current legal case, provide young people with a positive process through which they can explore their feelings and frustrations about the situation, and educate them about Social Movement history.  The Forum offers youth the tools and the space to work on not just a vision for justice, but a plan. Young people did not get us into this mess, but do have the wisdom to help get us out. Please invest in Urban Peace Movement and Youth UpRising by donating your time and/or financial resources to work with youth on peaceful responses to violence.

In our Families for Books Not Bars Network, we train parents to advocate for their children in the juvenile justice system by telling them not to let the court see their children as the sum total of their worst moment.  For Johannes Mehserle, it’s too late.  He will forever be seen as the cop who killed an unarmed Black man, as he lay prone.  He will have to live with that reality for the rest of his life no matter what the jury decides in Los Angeles.

But for you and me there is time.  How will we be remembered? When the jury makes its decision, will we feel victorious or defeated? Which outcome would trigger which response, anyway? What solution would mean that justice has been achieved – for Oscar and his family- and for all of the victims of State violence in our communities? Please share your ideas, your questions, and your feedback so we can move forward together.

As we heal our society so that there can be true and transformative justice, I am reminded that there is just us- we are all we have. We must come together to find the answers and move forward with our heads held high and our commitment to real solutions always lighting our path.


* In addition to healing the trauma, like Imani says (or perhaps as a part of it), reparations seem necessary.

June 2, 2010

“Wish I could take your tears and replace them with laughter/Long live Palestine, long live Gaza”

Filed under: anti-zionism,music,palestine,the revolution — by Daniel @ 12:52 am
Tags: , , , ,

Nothing should be unclear about the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla: we learned this week that the Israeli state is willing to massacre innocent civilians of all nationalities, not merely Palestinian Arabs,  in order to maintain the brutal siege on Gaza.  This was a terrifying moment for people in the Palestine solidarity movement because the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is made up of people like us (second letter).

I’m tempted to respond to some of the ridiculous Israeli hasbara (which means propaganda…but it’s worse, because it’s Zionist) about the flotilla, but I’m not eager to dignify it with attention.  If you’re reading reputable news sources, it’s clear that the Israeli line is a huge lie.  I also don’t think that it’s a particularly difficult question how we should respond to the attack on the Freedom Flotilla: we must deplore Israel’s actions, we must mourn and honor the martyrs, we must demand accountability, and we must hope–and work to ensure–that the bravery and sacrifice of the Freedom Flotilla activists will lead to the breaking of the siege on Gaza, to the further growth of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and to the eventual liberation of Palestine.

I’m primarily posting, then, to draw attention to an excellent clip of the British rapper Lowkey at an emergency protest in London on Monday.

Lowkey starts by reminding his British audience of their complicity in the Israeli attack on the Flotilla and the Israeli siege on Gaza. “We were there through our taxes: our taxes were in the bullets that were fired into our friends and our brothers and our sisters…our taxes were there, our Balfour Declaration was there.”   But Lowkey transitions from this depressing reminder of complicity to a vision of solidarity.  “When they drop white phosphorous bombs on Gaza, they drop white phosphorous bombs on us…we must express our solidarity with those people, because they are us.”  We are not only the Freedom Flotilla: we are Gaza.  In addition to knowing that we cause harm to befall Gaza, we also feel that harm as if it affects us.

Identifying one’s  privilege and complicity with oppressive practices can so often feel like a deadly terminal object.  When, as privileged people, we learn about complicated systems of power like capitalism, imperialism and colonialism, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and patriarchy wherein no matter how moral we try to be, our actions, identities, and positionalities implicate us in the oppression of others whether locally or across the world, it is often disempowering and disheartening.  Hence it’s exceptionally powerful to find the call for solidarity in that very same network.  As we inadvertently cause oppression and violence, knowledge of that can inspire us identify with the victims of that violence.  Realizing I am causing Gaza to starve can make me feel that much more disempowered about working to end the siege: or it can heighten the urgency of ending the starvation I’m causing.  Lowkey’s point is that an analysis of complicity must also be a call to solidarity.  For those with white privilege in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, an analysis of complicity without solidarity is mere posturing or self-flagellation; but solidarity without an analysis of complicity can be a false and privilege-blind claim to victimhood.

Also, if this is the first you’re hearing “Long Live Palestine,” be sure to check out a proper version.  “There is nothing more antisemitic than Zionism:” true.

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