Postcards to the Future / A Protest in Place: Activism in 2021
When we at KPI started this multi-month journey, we were in pandemic lockdown. Our primary thoughts connected social-distancing/physical isolation with remaining active and engaged in our families, community and world. With the spread of contagion surrounding us, constricting our movements, we had to think differently to care for ourselves and others as the virus continues to rage. Just as the virus has not become safer despite vaccines to it being developed, neither has our body politic become safer post-2020 elections. What does “activism” mean in this new context?
One of the noteworthy elements of this transitional period has been the funhouse mirror effect of what it means to be active today. As terrorist white supremacists endanger our democracy physically, they also endanger our perspectival moral core through the appropriation of the language of liberation.
It was ever thus. Our commitment to freedom of speech allows for dissenting even horrifying opinions that frighten. The particular sense of entitlement of white supremacist behavior in word and deed also means the acquisition and appropriation of people, places, landmarks, and ideas that are meaningful to those of us who believe in liberty and justice for all. Just recently the anti-government extremists have attempted to appropriate a Black woman rallying cry: #SayHerName. This hashtag and assertion was inspired by the racist murder of Sandra Bland and other Black women, including trans women, who did not initially receive the same attention as our fallen brothers. There are many examples of the contorted use of language and meaning by the oppressors that have stolen the articulated sentiments of the oppressed.
A variant of this “double-speak” is the immature “I know you are but what am I?” approach to being called out on dangerous hateful principles. Another dystopian approach is to say “I thought you wanted to appeal to our better angels? To unite? To heal?” as if our expression of what is actually occurring, what is dangerous, is the problem that is holding us all back. Identifying someone as racist/white supremacist/sexist/transphobic/hateful/treacherous leads to violent insurrections and then hearing the same exact words back by those causing mahem. How does one grapple with these twists of words and phrases, remaining actively engaged?
As lovers of language we humbly suggest a couple of approaches: Firstly we present our connections to those who believe and actively live their lives for freedom. On this website, we have asked ourselves throughout our presentations of our sisters in action: whom do we owe? What is our activist lineage? How do these women make the world a better place? How have we picked up their baton as they continue to hold it, and us, up? We are specific in whom we are naming, particular with what they have done so there’s no equivocation about what movement we are a part of, what activism we adhere to, whom we love and who loves us.
For those who regurgitate our, admittedly great, anthems, ideas and phrases we must simply assert our agency among ourselves. It can be a timeline, a direct connection, an affirmation. We give credit where credit is due. We are specific in how we are inspired and reference people, movements, places in particular. One thing we cannot continue to do is mollycoddle those who hate our assertion of freedom. We don’t need to keep “understanding” the enemies of democracy. They have made their positions, hatred and violent actions abundantly clear.
We work with those of goodwill, whether they agree with us all the time or not, to make a better world as best we can. A world of lovingkindness, care and dignity for those who believe in, and act upon, these principles.
In the first few days of this month we’ve looked with sorrow at the vulnerability of our democratic republic. The harm that has come to the brave. There are many of us who have, for years, raised alarm bells about these same forces being out of control when they attacked the most vulnerable of us. In discussions we have wondered what to do with our anger and bitter disappointment. We’re activists at something at a loss during the stunning events on January 6th. We know that toughness with joy and hope moves us forward. Where do we find it after so many horrors including the deaths because of COVID and how it has upended life as we know it? It’s perfectly reasonable to feel anger and even betrayal. Pandora’s box has been opened and everything is on full display. Persephone-Kore, in the guise of Lady Liberty, now *knows* what hell is like.
What we’ve considered is this: We will continue to be active, kind, caring, serious and determined. We will continue to make work in, of, and for ourselves and the world we want to see. We will leave it to the good and earnest professionals whose job it is deal with real and imminent danger to their work now that every level of the threat is laid bare. When it is appropriate, we will rely on our friends and neighbors to disassociate with, and identify, those who would destroy this world. We will continue to look out for each other.
Being based in Arizona we can say, this isn’t our first time at the rodeo even though these particular struggles are unique to these times. Black women know aspects of, even the roots of many societal, economic and political disappointments well. We, inspired by people like the brilliant Stacey Abrams, our new VP Kamala Harris and many, many unnamed activists both inside and outside of conventional structures, will say and do what we mean. Artists generate the sense and feeling of a time, through artistry that is at once timeless and of the moment. We will continue to present examples of this, and our brash, hopeful, compassionate, unmitigated power through these pages and posts.
—Tracie Morris, January 2021