Yesterday morning, after yoga class, I broke down in tears over breakfast because the world is so full of suffering and I can't fix it. There are no magic answers. I've been telling my students for years I got no pixie dust. I know it's not a sprint; it's a marathon. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the world's so full of suffering and there seems to be so little I can do.
It's not that I've never done my part. In fact, I've always been altruistic. At six, I won a dollar in an art contest (at a time when you could buy a camera for a dollar) and I took my whole family out for ice cream. My father was stunned.
At eleven, I stomped out of Sunday School after telling off the girls in my class -- in front of our teacher -- for talking mean about a little girl because she was poor. At thirteen, I opted out of joining the church (a very radical stance in my world) about the same time I started dancing with Black guys at school (because the White guys didn't know how and I loved to dance). At sixteen, I did an all-interview term paper on racial discrimination in the city where I lived -- garnering me the class's "National Association for the Advancement of Cows and Pigs Award" at the end of the semester.
By the time I was in my late 20's, I had dropped out, blazed my way through San Francisco, and joined the National Prison Center in Iowa City, Iowa (the collective putting out the Prisoners Digest International and the headquarters of the Church of the New Song, a religion that formed in the federal joint in Atlanta and won all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court). Needless to say, this connection offered me many opportunities to put myself out there on front street. Such as the time I got Chief of Classification and Parole Witkowski at Leavenworth so worked up, he had a goon squad carry me to the edge of the concrete steps out front and threaten to throw me down them while he was screaming.
That was during the period I found my writer's voice (with the help of Richard Tanner, a man who had done thirty days in the dark hole twice in Oklahoma and later came to understand the value of the printed word as a tool for radical groups organizing inside the walls). Eventually, I worked with a branch of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute in Rock Island, Illinois, which got me quoted on the front page of the local paper for saying: "It's not about training police officers. It's about them facing the fact that slavery is dead in America." And over time, I got myself noticed for continuing to write about prison issues for anybody that would publish what I wrote.
Strangely enough, it was when I went to grad school that I discovered how truly radical I was. I fit in approximately nowhere and I had long since gotten over trying to mince my words. I managed to get through a Masters degree in sociology only because I was studying the socially-constructed political notion of "race" at a school where nobody had a clue what I was talking about and the folks I hung around were from other countries.
But I had no such luck at the PhD level. One of my friends tried to warn me repeatedly and with great emphasis that if I didn't learn to shut my mouth, I was going to wind up pushed out. But I didn't believe her until I found myself -- after five years of grueling intellectual labor -- on the outside of the door in the middle of my dissertation.
As the years went by in the next two decades, I learned that being "radical," for me, meant unapologetically espousing a very particularistic world view, a way of analyzing power relations with a focus on political economy, a belief that a different world is possible, and the commitment to participate in the process of creating that different world by any means necessary. As I studied and learned and wrote and spoke and history unfolded, despite the fact that I found others who agreed with me to one extent or another, I began to realize that I would probably die without seeing much, if any, real progress in the direction I thought we should go. And then it all got worse.
By this point -- though, by and large, nobody can believe it -- I'm 72. I have a "purposive tremor" in my hands, which means I can't shoot a gun for shit. Though I did an hour of yoga four times in the past week, my knees don't like to run anymore. And given the fact that I don't use any mind or mood altering substances, the minor aches and pains of aging are a common companion. My medical team says my overall health is excellent, but my primary physician describes my insulin-dependent diabetes as a "dark cloud that will always be hanging over me" for the rest of my life. Not to mention I get weary quicker than I used to. I can still outwork most of the people I know, but I'm currently choosing not to because I'm trying to pace myself for the long haul. All of which makes me pretty reticent to go to the street or to jail like I used to.
What I'm getting at is that, as I watch younger revolutionaries climbing flag poles and punching people in the face, I feel like a failure as a social change agent. And there's so much suffering in the world.
I'm socially reproducing myself in all my courses at a public university in the deep south, no doubt (and if you saw my office walls, you'd know it's no secret). I write (obviously) and I financially subsidize social action to the extent possible (though the need is so great, that it has now become another source of guilty conscience). I'm adding the task of advising a new student group come August to focus on issues related to the criminal injustice system. I'm organizing a series of events for this coming year (prison in the fall, resistance in the spring). I'm working on a compilation of some of the better posts from this blog with the hope I will have it out before the end of the year. I'm making a more concentrated effort to find a publisher for my project on in-your-face women. And so forth.
But sometimes, I'm like the old war horse who's pulling a cart of supplies to the train. When she hears the bombs in the distance, she simultaneously feels the fear, but also the itch. The Facebook account I'm re-posting here gave me that rush. I love Tiana Smalls with all my heart for what she did on a Greyhound bus in California this week when a bunch of ICE agents hopped aboard making like Nazis. I still speak out from time to time when I can't help myself. But it's good to know none of us stands alone. And when we can't do something (really can't), someone else might well be able to. Beating up myself (or anybody else) doesn't accomplish anything, but I damn sure want to jump out here and give Tiana a standing ovation for showing how revolution is waged. Gather round, Kiddies. It's story time.
Tiana Smalls: "Ok. Storytime: It's about my experience last night with these fucking border patrol agents.
Last night, I rode the greyhound bus from Bakersfield to Las Vegas to visit family.
When we got to the California/Nevada state line, as always, there's a checkpoint.
(This checkpoint USED to be one where they made sure you weren't carrying fruits into California, bc of an invasive fruit fly species).
The bus driver makes an announcement: 'We are being boarded by Border Patrol. Please be prepared to show your documentation upon request.'
WAIT. WHAT THE FUCK?
So you know I'm ready to act an ASS.
I stand up and say LOUDLY:
'THIS IS A VIOLATION OF YOUR 4TH AMENDMENT RIGHTS. YOU DON'T HAVE TO SHOW THEM *SHIT*!!! This is illegal. We are not within 100 miles of an international border so they have NO authority to ask you for ANYTHING. TELL THEM TO FUCK OFF!'
And, since my Spanish sucks, I Google-translated how to say that in Spanish and repeated myself:
'Esto es una violación de los derechos de su cuarta enmienda. ¡No tienes que mostrarles nada! Esto es ilegal No cumples, y no tengas miedo. Están equivocados, y no dejaremos pasar esto.'
The lady next to me did not speak English. She looked terrified. I reassured her that I had her back.
The agents get on. Proceed to announce that they are about to start asking for 'documentation' from people.
I stand up and yell, 'I'm not showing you shit! I'm not driving this bus, so you have NO RIGHT to ask me for anything! And the rest of you guys don't have to show them anything either! This is harassment and racial profiling! Don't show them a gotdamn thing! We are not within 100 miles of a border so they have NO LEGAL RIGHT or jurisdiction here! GOOGLE IT!'
The agents start to look exasperated, because they can see I'm willing to act a WHOLE DONKEY. One of them said 'Fine. We can see that you're a citizen because of your filthy mouth.' And then they just said 'go ahead' to the bus driver and got off.
Point is: These border patrol officers act like they do because they EXPECT people to be afraid of them and just comply. The lady next to me spoke NO ENGLISH, but she was a very kind woman. She looked TERRIFIED when they boarded. I felt it was my duty to defend her. We DO NOT LIVE in Nazi Germany. No one should be asked to present 'papers' for interstate travel. I defended her and I defended myself. We DO NOT HAVE to just take this shit LYING down. What those officers did is WRONG and completely illegal. All it took was ONE LOUD ass Black woman to let them know WE ARE NOT WITH THE SHITS. FUCK Y'ALL. And they backed off.
Use your voice. Take a risk. Act an ASS. Because if you let them intimidate the poor Spanish-speaking woman next to you, who do you think they're coming for next?"