There was a time when it wasn’t second nature to me to stand up for myself, for who I was, or for where I was from…to speak truth to power and not flinch. I don’t think about those days a lot anymore, but every once in a while something reminds me.
Last night, a friend told a story about refusing to say the pledge of allegiance after the Patriot Act passed, on the cusp of the invasion of Iraq. She saw the principal everyday. My 24 yr old self smiled, unsurprised by her character, and proud of her strength. And the 14 year old in me was terrified at the thought. I said the pledge everyday, like a prayer of salvation, like a plead that it was all a dream. When I was a kid, I had said it out of habit, but those days we were remembering out-loud as we drove down the highway telling stories, those days when I was the fair-skinned enemy, I said it out of desperation and a naivete that I could prove something to people.
I really only had one friend that noticed that my fire went out, and she was the only person that was happy to see it when it lit again. There was no moment, no spark, no combustion. It was like lighting a difficult campfire on damp ground. You needed tinder and kindling, just the right amount of oxygen and fanning, and the right angle of the logs – a slow warm build up to a bustling, crackling fire that could last all day.
The first presentation of a paper I ever gave in school was about the 2nd Intifada. I was 13, and I took on the entire 8th grade without blinking. After the following September and for the next 2 years after that, I lost my voice. I was a shell of a politically correct, dialogue promoting, wide-eyed, high school diplomat – representing a thousand things I was still trying to understand to a group of people that didn’t want those things to ever have representation.
When my voice started to come back around 17 or so, it was clear it wasn’t ever going away again. My politics are no secret to anyone who knows me, and generally those who do, consider me someone who thinks strategically. I’ve had conversations with more than a few people lately about how you start and conduct conversations about injustice and what you’re supposed to call things. And here’s been my answer.
You call injustice – injustice. That’s it. Plain and simple. We call things what they are and we call them what they are absolutely as often as we get a chance. For every time you sugar coat oppression, racism, Zionism, privilege, dispossession, you lose a little bit of your voice. But more importantly, you replace it with a language that aids in silencing others. If you think it does anyone any good or elevates you to a step where you can say what you’re thinking down the line, you are just simply wrong. Postponing the language of truth, postpones truth itself. Language normalizes situations as much as, if not more than, any action. Language sets standards. Projecting your voice counts, but the words you choose, or don’t, when you project it count more.
A black man was lynched in Georgia last month. His name was Troy Davis. 10 Muslim students stood trial in the country of the 1st Amendment for interrupting the speech of a Zionist defender of a state that continues to perpetuate ethnic cleansing. A Nobel Prize winner is Commander in Chief of two wars and denying a statehood he called for on the deadline he wanted. Political prisoners in Palestine are on hunger strike for what will be the third week demanding an end to the inhumane conditions and practices of solitary confinement in the face of a racist regime that takes every measure to break their spirit. 700 people were round up and arrested like cattle on a bridge in New York last week. Doctors in Bahrain are facing life sentences for treating the bullet wounds of protesters shot by police and GCC forces. Assad is not the defender of Palestine, and neither was his father. Bullets, not in my name. The bombs my tax dollars pay for are bad enough.