Putting Your Body on the Line

I live on the dividing line. Literally.

On my side of the street, a suburban mostly white township, the gateway to mostly white, mostly privileged America.

Across the street, a thriving, diverse inner ring suburb.

On my side, all my neighbors are white.

Across the street my neighbors are black. And their neighbors are brown. Every shade of beautiful brown.

We spend so much collective energy on our ranking and filing. If only we could stop sorting one another and realize that that, like nature itself, biodiversity makes the strongest ecosystem.

White self-segregation is harmful to our communities and the health of our democracy. In the political bubble I live in, there is widespread agreement on that point. The disconnect, though, seems to be a complete lack of ownership over our selective access to privilege and the underlying white supremacy that governs our decision making on where we put our personal and economic power over the course of our lives.

When I talk about white supremacy, most people I know think KKK. When I tell them that white supremacy is “literally you and me” they look at me like I have two heads. That’s a problem.

How, specifically, have I benefited from white supremacy, you ask?

As a somewhat rebellious teenager I put myself in multiple situations that would have put me in jail if I were black. I had at least three interactions with the police that I can remember before I was 20.

I’m not really sure how my college was paid for, I’m guessing my dad put some of my tuition on his credit card and perhaps took out a second mortgage on the home that he owned. And speaking of home ownership, I was able to purchase my own home at 25 with the help of my family.

This is how white wealth travels through generations. My children have their educations because of my access to credit. My access to credit stems from home ownership. 72% of white people own homes. 41% of black people own homes. The Wall Street Journal found that only 5% of mortgages were offered to African Americans in 2014.

Children suffer the most from self-segregation.

Children of color suffer when concentrated wealth and power create inequitable schools with inequitable outcomes. The only way that black children can even glimpse the American dream is through strong public education and equitable investment in all communities.

But it’s not only children of color who suffer. White children also suffer when they are fed a storybook narrative about the world they live in.

Self-segregation robs us of access to a rich wealth of cultural and ethnic traditions that are so much richer when experienced directly from engaging with people. Experiencing the cultural fabric of all Americans, not just white Americans, makes us all fuller, more empathetic human beings.

Isn’t that what we all want? Truly.

Invest/Divest

Why would Black Lives Matter alienate so many supporters in the Jewish community?

I have heard this question repeatedly since I became part of the Movement for Black Lives a year ago.

First, let me say clearly that Black Lives Matter is not accountable to me, the Jewish community or anyone but their own core members.  My commentary is not directed at BLM. I recognize that I am supporting the entire platform when I support the movement.

The reason for this post is to share my perspective with other members of the Jewish community who want to get involved as a BLM ally,  but feel threatened and singled out by BLM’s anti-Zionist stance.

The text in question is here: the US “diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government” which the platform refers to as a “genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The text also refers to a system of “apartheid” in Israel.

Activists and journalists alike have cited the inclusion of Israel in BLM’s platform as singling out Israel in an unfair way. Let’s be clear here: The US spends about $5 billion dollars on foreign aid to Israel and to incentivize Egypt to keep peace. That’s FAR more, like WAY FAR MORE than any other military aid we provide outside of Afghanistan.

So the American people do have a right to ensure that that funding is being used to uphold democratic values. As a matter of fact, we have an obligation to do so.  As an American Jew, it is my moral duty to speak out when I see the Israeli government, in my name, oppressing its citizens and others who live under its control. 

I understand that referring to the actions of the Israeli government as “genocide” seems harsh. And the truth is that the UN has been vague in its definition of genocide.  To people who don’t see or understand the reality of life for most Palestinians, it may be impossible for them to come to terms with the idea that Jews, and especially the Jewish state, can be BOTH victims AND oppressors. And most Jews justify the behavior they do see with a myriad of both relevant and completely irrelevant facts and assumptions.

I agree that Israel’s wall  and system of checkpoints institutes a system of Apartheid within the territory it controls. It separates families from the bounty of their land. It separates children and the elderly from schools and medical care. And it separates economic opportunity and hope.

Regardless of whether you think that Israel is inflicting genocide against the Palestinian people (and experts disagree about the role of numbers in defining a genocide),  anyone who cares about the sanctity of black life and values the contributions of the black community in the US should recognize that nothing we face in our own communities is as pressing as the collective oppression of people of color in our own home, the systematic rape of black communities and the continued assassination of black people by our prison industrial complex.

I can only share my truth.

My truth tells me that the argument about whether or not Israel is an Apartheid government inflicting genocide against the Palestinian people belongs within the Jewish and Palestinian communities.  That’s where I will be engaging in this conversation.

In the meantime, I will not be distracted from my focus and determination in fully supporting Black Lives Matter and in our collective struggle to defend black dignity and build black power and self-determination.

Election Day

I live in New Jersey, but typically campaign in Pennsylvania because it swings. I campaigned for Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama (twice) and Hillary Clinton (yes, proudly…although I did vote for Bernie). My home is about 10 minutes from Philly, and I typically pick a field office that is situated in a diverse neighborhood so that I can get beyond the whiteness of my suburban life.

This year I had lunch with my friend Jim a couple of weeks before the election. He asked me if we were going to win Pennsylvania. He is on the DNC so I should have taken him seriously. He is a guy who knows. But I didn’t. “Of course!” I promised. I guess I’m an optimist at heart.

I told Jim that I was struggling to decide where to canvass. I wanted to go door-to-door in poor, disenfranchised communities in North Philadelphia where I wanted to assure people that their voices matter and that our democracy WILL work for them. And I really believed that then.

Jim challenged me to think about whether or not a white middle class woman would have credibility in a poor black and hispanic community. The truth was that I was more comfortable in the diverse neighborhoods of Philadelphia, a place I care deeply about, than I was in the farm towns of Pennsylvania. And, I rationalized, if we can get the turnout we need in Philly, we don’t need the vote from rural PA.

What an incredible cop out. I might have made a real difference in rural PA. If I had just given it a chance.

So I chose to knock on doors in Philly and I felt pretty good about this endeavor. I was confident. I was cocky. I was out of touch.

But I knocked on about 500 doors, made a few hundred phone calls, and printed out the party platform to send to skeptics. (I was very proud of the party platform.)

On election day, I walked Spanish speakers to the polls. With my handy voter registration app in one hand and a DNC translator in the other, I would be personally responsible for giving this election to our first female president. I even told someone who was visiting Mexico that we wouldn’t build a wall while he was gone. Yikes! I was confident. I was cocky. I was out of touch.

So I was on top of the world. We visited five field offices to show the campaign staff some love.  We showed off our “I Voted” stickers. The polls would close soon. And we learned that there was still a three hour line at Temple University. Hmmm. Things were starting to feel weird.

I went home and changed into some clean red, white and blue and went back to Philly with my friend Chrissy for a victory party. We were ready to be out all night! But 10 minutes and two CNN segments later, Chrissy decided that she had to get too drunk to drive. Shit. I got home and turned on Stephen Colbert. He was getting drunk, too. This was bad. Really bad.

So I watched until the bitter end. By myself. And that’s when the crying began.

Looking back, I feel good that I stopped at least five people from ditching. That was worthwhile. But I can’t shake this crazy guilt that I thought that I could be useful in bringing out the minority vote by showing disenfranchised voters that we care about their stake in our democracy when really it was my own community of white women that needed the convincing. What a stupid racist attitude I had. What. Was. I. Thinking?

That people in North Philadelphia somehow needed me to show them I cared about their vote? Or was I just too much of a coward to get out of my comfort zone and look white supremacy in the face?

Either way, I have decided that I need to learn a little humility. I don’t know if someone can learn to be humble or if is just born in you. But I need to try. And I also am ready to look white supremacy in the face. To call it out and stare it down.

We are the people and we are the majority.

Pipelines

We’re so good at building pipelines.

Today I hope I took my own first step in breaking the school to prison pipeline. I took my new friend Dava to see her son, who is in this incredible program to get kids who have fucked up (many who have experience trauma) a space to breath and find some peace.

I met Dominic there, and we started talking about someone who was shot by police a few days ago in his community. I told him that I know of someone who pulls over as a witness when she’s driving and sees black men stopped by the police. I pledged that I will do that too.

In New Jersey, we have two gas pipelines planned. Some through sacred land. My niece just learned about the Lenni-Lenape in school but the teacher forgot to tell her that the Lenni-Lenape still exist today. I showed her the facebook pictures of the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp where Ramapough water protectors are being fined by the local township for camping on their own land.

Posted by Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp on Saturday, January 28, 2017

 

You can donate to their legal fund now.

The Revolution Will Be Live

This blog began on January 15th, the day I finally stopped crying.

The last time I cried like that was while watching Philandro Castile die live, on social media, in front of his family.

I stopped crying when I joined about 300 other writers at the National Museum of American Jewish History for “Writer’s Resist,” where more than two dozen local writers, authors and journalists (in Philly) selected and read works by humanity’s most important activists, poets, prophets and heroes. I saw so many things simmering below the surface that day and felt our collective hearts beating, driven by a purpose, resolved to march forward toward our liberation.

Walk shoulder to shoulder with me.


Like my cover image? It’s from configuringlight.org as part of Project Resist, a collaboration with the Light Collective and Social Light Movement.