I stand with UNC PhD student Maya Little who was arrested today for pouring blood and paint on Silent Sam. Here is her statement:
I have been an organizer for the Silent Sam Sit-In since September 2017, when campus police confiscated the belongings of the 24 hour occupiers. Every weekday we provide context around the statue. This is an opportunity to teach. It is also our duty to continue the struggle against white supremacy that countless others have led since black students have been on this campus. The statue, a symbol of UNC’s commitment to white supremacy, has been defaced and protested since 1968. Yet the statue remains on campus 50 years later. These last 5 years Carol Folt has been chancellor and she has not taken a single step towards removing Silent Sam. The armed, Confederate soldier dedicated and built by racists during Jim Crow has remained. However, the dedication and courage of each successive group of students fighting for racial equality at UNC has made our message louder and clearer. The threat of Neonazis and white supremacists marching on our communities has made it more urgent.
Chancellor Folt and the administrators are more dedicated to silencing us. In her first two years, there was no state law against removing the statue. She has heard countless activists tell her the statue’s presence dehumanizes and threatens people of color. The governor has written an open letter asking her to remove the statue. White supremacists have marched around Silent Sam and threatened violence. How has Folt responded? She has called us outside agitators. She has refused to call a statue dedicated for and by proud racists, white supremacist. She has never met with members of the Sit In. She has allowed white supremacist groups to invade this campus. She, Derek Kemp, and Jeff McCracken appointed a campus police officer to go undercover, lie about his identity, and gather information on us. According to McCracken, they continue to spend $1,700 dollars per day to protect the statue.
What do you see when you look at this statue, Chancellor? We see the mutilation of black bodies, the degradation of black people, the celebration of an army that fought for our ancestors’ enslavement. I see Julian Carr whipping a black woman. I see your willingness to traumatize, dehumanize, and endanger every black person on this campus. We see our blood and now you will too.
Today I have thrown my blood and red ink on this statue as a part of the continued mission to provide the context that the Chancellor refuses to. Chancellor Folt, if you refuse to remove the statue, then we will continue to contextualize it. Silent Sam is violence; Silent Sam is the genocide of black people; Silent Sam is antithetical to our right to exist. You should see him the way that we do, at the forefront of our campus covered in our blood.
But UNC does not want this context. Chancellor Folt will order Silent Sam to be cleaned immediately. But she should clean my blood and the ink off Silent Sam, not campus workers. The Chancellor and all who have used their power to keep Silent Sam here must embrace the truth about UNC. UNC is Silent Sam. Chapel Hill is Silent Sam. The statue stands smirking and defiant representing a community that has failed many times to work for justice and racial quality. Chancellor, the blood is on your hands.
Folt cares more about plastering our black faces over the Campaign for Carolina than about our safety, our dignity, our right to exist on this campus. Black community members are harassed by campus police. Black athletes are exploited by this university for the Tar Heel brand. Black faculty are not retained. Black students are forced to live and study in buildings named after people who made their fortunes through the sale of black children.
But we are not silent. The statue will be contextualized to show UNC’s racist past and present. You, Chancellor Folt—and your donors, the students you recruit, the alumni you cater to—will be forced to see it until every facet of white supremacy on this campus has been removed.
Photos by https://www.instagram.com/dhosterman/
Check out the late Grace Lee Boggs on how to foster solidarity and make it through this horrible time with our souls and hopefully our social fabric intact. Her words are only becoming more and more important.
“I’ve come to believe that you cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”
1. Come alive
It’s a short read, go ahead and check it out: “What Grace Lee Boggs Would’ve Taught Activists in This Moment; Three principles to help you avoid burnout and continue working toward a better world,” published March 20, 2017.
Haven’t processed all of this yet, but this is a great exploration of antifa from a Buddhist perspective. Please read if like me you are troubled by both violence and nazis.
I also want to think about this on a “Buddhist” level. What do we expect Buddhists to look like at these demonstrations? Based on mainstream images, we might expect thin, glowy, non-disabled, ‘wise-seeming’ adherents, typically white, occasionally Black. (Thanks, racist erasure.) We might expect them to be sitting in meditation, legs crossed, face uncovered and untroubled. There is nothing wrong with any of these forms, but it’s a problem when our expectations calcify around them. This problem is not new. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche identified it in his classic book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. If we’re not careful, we can slide into stereotypes and assumptions about how awakening behaves. What it wears. How it sounds. And that’s where ego creeps in, just when we think we’re being all awakened and marvelous.
On violence as a tactic:
…My commitments to transforming oppression lead me to seek relationship and solidarity with those actively opposing white supremacy.
That means I’m going to encounter plenty of people I disagree with. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that some people in Antifa, and some who use black bloc tactics, aren’t animated by rage and a desire for destruction. Even vengeance. But this scares me less, even on a moral level, than those who would pretend that the world’s seemingly endless stream of searing injustice doesn’t warrant our rage.
I am unarmed. I will remain unarmed. Buddhist Peace Fellowship will never promote attacking an enemy. But in my mind, this is a profoundly privileged position, almost an accident of luck, and a calling for which I am grateful — not a trophy of righteousness with which to bludgeon others who choose to engage in self defense.
Taking heed from spiritual-political revolutionary and writer adrienne maree brown, let’s be honest about whose bodies are at stake, and act accordingly. Violence surrounds us every day, all the time, inescapable. How do we bring about radical transformation (which necessitates destroying many current systems of greed, hatred, and delusion), while remaining as true as possible to a life of awakening and compassion?
Read more and join the conversation at The Buddhist Peace Fellowship website.
Like many people, a week ago I was feeling pretty down about the state of racial justice and just basic humanity in the United States. But then something happened.
In response to the hate and violence displayed in Charlottesville, hundreds of Durhamites came together for a huge vigil on Sunday night. Many friends of mine posted pictures and powerful testimonials to the collective love they felt gathered together.
But I also noticed that some activists had less satisfied responses, including frustration that the mostly-white event marginalized voices of color and those with more radical tactics. Much of that frustration fed into a Monday demonstration, which had already been planned to take place in front of Durham’s old courthouse, where there was a confederate monument with an inscription to “the boys who wore gray.”
Many times I have passed that statue and wondered what on earth it was doing there. Until last year, I really didn’t realize how pervasive these were and what drove their creation. Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center (which tracks hate groups) published a report Whose Heritage? (PDF) that shows that most of the Confederate memorials were erected either during the Jim Crow era or during the Civil Rights movement, as a way to reinforce white supremacy. The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate Monuments explores this history and notes the increase in legislation such as North Carolina’s 2015 law that prevents any local authority from legally removing them.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.
Or as my friend Tony put so well: “Taking DOWN Confederate monuments is not about erasing history. Putting them UP was.”
I knew that protesters planned to rally at Durham’s monument on Monday. I might have joined them but for it being league night, and I also had an obligation to feed a recovering friend. I did not expect just a few frames into the evening to learn that the protesters had actually pulled the statue down! Many of my fellow bowlers were sharing videos of it and talking about how this felt like a cultural turning point. We hoped this would be the first of many dominoes to fall.
— Derrick Lewis (@DerrickQLewis) August 14, 2017
Of course in the days following, we learned that the people who did this were being arrested and charged with crimes related to toppling the statues. First was Takiyah Thompson, a young, queer, financially-struggling HBCU student and woman of color (I say all this to show how much she put at risk) who bravely scaled the statue and looped the rope over the top of the confederate soldier. Then the others who helped pull it down were also arrested one-by-one. They looked like a youngish cross-section of Durham – various generations, races, gender identities, and income and education levels.
Many of us were upset to hear that in addition to misdemeanor property destruction charges, the Sheriff was levying felony rioting charges against them. Law enforcement officers were present when the statue was pulled down. It seems to me that if there had been any serious chaos or public danger, they would have stepped in rather than quietly observing and recording the event.
On Thursday I attended a protest at the Durham County Jail where about 60 people declared that they also wanted to be arrested for supporting the toppling of the statue. Here you can see them lined up in black, with another 100 or more observers cheering them on.
Not surprisingly, County officials declined to arrest them so we moved into the courthouse for the planned observation of the the first court date of some of the arrested activists. I have observed trials before, and I find it to be a helpful way to both learn about the criminal justice system and to remind decision-makers that the community is paying attention to their actions. I dressed up for court, and brought my laptop so I’d be able to stay and work from the courtroom as long as needed.
I was one of the first to arrive at the courtroom, and the deputy at the door informed me that the Sheriff had pre-emptively decided that no-one would be allowed into courtroom 4D unless their name appeared on the docket that day. (Later I heard rumors that he was concerned about overcrowding or that people with cases wouldn’t be able to get into the room. Both of these problems seem to have obvious solutions that wouldn’t require violating NC’s open courts law, but there’s no reasoning with a Sheriff’s Deputy.) This left about 200 of us calmly standing around in the hallway wondering what to do.
Eventually we filed out, and gathered in front of the courthouse. After their trial was continued, the defendants of the day came out and made media statements. I came home and went back to work. Later I was interviewed for this Huffington Post article, and helped Now This who made this brief video. Rodrigo’s 20-minute live Facebook video (below) is a much better document of the event. I left feeling great about the message we sent from Durham to the world about supporting the leaders who took this action to rid our community of a symbol of violence and white supremacy. One of my tweets about the demonstration got over 1,000 likes, so I knew people were watching and appreciating us in Durham.
On Friday around 10:30 I was trying to get my head together to write a blog post about all of this, when I got a text (at right) from a friend. I went to Facebook and saw similar messages. People were trying to spread the word, but to keep the rendezvous point secret to avoid attracting negative attention. (It’s a wonderful queer-friendly venue that welcomes activism and has already been targeted by haters.)
The forecast was for a high in the 90s, I was behind at work, and I’m a Buddhist that abhors violence. I knew I had to go.
When I arrived, the meeting point was already overflowing. Outside I caught a brief glimpse of my friend who is an active member of a group called Redneck Revolt. He was carrying a rifle slung over his shoulder and trying to help people get organized. (The gun is an interesting issue. I will have to to address it in a future post.) I worked my way in to find a friend I planned to meet. The speakers (primarily Manju Rajendran and Serena Sebring, two amazing women of color with long records of service to social justice work near and far) were using the human mic to share important tactical and logistical information.
We learned that the police could arrest any group blocking the street without a permit, and that included us! They told us to find a small “family” of friends and always stay within arms length of them during the demonstration. It really hit me then how serious the stakes were. But I also felt the powerful love of everyone holding each other up. Many of us were scared. Some people were crying. But we were ready to put our bodies on the line to keep the Klan out of our city.
— Zaina Alsous (@diasporadical_z) August 18, 2017
The time came and we marched down the street toward the old courthouse. When we got there we met an even bigger march that had come from the other direction. They held a huge sign in front that read “We will not be intimidated” with what many probably didn’t know (or care) was an “antifa” logo. The only Nazis we found were a couple of losers lurking around the statue. As soon as one raised his arm in a Nazi salute next to a woman with her fist in the air, they were pretty quickly hustled out of the area by two intrepid volunteer marshals (one of whom happened to be a Durham City Council member).
Michael Galinsky, who took the wonderful photo above, also made this excellent 10 minute video, but I have to add a caveat to it. The video overemphasizes the high-energy moments of excitement and tension – of which there were plenty – but it is almost entirely missing the other dynamic that was just as present, which was hours of alternately mundane and joyful moments of solidarity, warmth, and connection. People were greeting old friends and making new ones. Everyone was glowing with pride at the tremendous power we had to collectively fight hate.
After it was clear that we had secured the entire block from any potential noon KKK march and were not in immediate physical danger, we learned that there was a chance they might come back at 4pm. People immediately resolved to continue holding the space, and so we did. Brazilian drummers came and sparked an impromptu dance party. We eventually grew to over a thousand people, all mobilized with just a few hours notice.
— Bronwen Dickey (@BronwenDickey) August 18, 2017
After a lunch break I returned and stayed until I had to go pick up my son from his last day of summer camp. At this point, police were attempting to re-open the street, but many activists were not having it. Eventually, what was left of the group joined the weekly demonstration against poor conditions and treatment at the County Jail a few blocks away. (I wasn’t there of course, but have attended in the past.)
The extra momentum carried the protesters from the jail and up the street toward the Durham Police Department, where the community finally saw the hostility that some of us had frankly been anticipating all day. There was a lot of confusion when photos like this hit social media and many people took them to mean that the Klan had finally showed up. What else would explain cops in riot gear and aggressive formation?
Fortunately only one protester was arrested all day long, and it was for failure to disperse at the police department. I have had many anarchist friends and comrades over the years, and I know that there are some who thrive on conflict and simply were not going to feel like they had their say until something like that happened.
This amazing day was capped off by hearing the surprisingly thoughtful statement from the Durham District Attorney, making it clear that any charges against the statue topplers would take into account the political context in which they acted.
The past few days have been intense. (Plus Steve Bannon resigned. Holy what!) But each time people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them about this strong sense of community love that has emerged. Under a dehumanizing autocratic regime like the current Republican administration, it’s easy to feel powerless. Lacking epic leadership and organization, it seems there’s not much we can do in this moment. But building solidarity is the best way to keep us human and connected in an era where those in power want us to be alienated, weak, and angry.
A few pundits have argued that taking statues down doesn’t help to fight this fucked up government that is literally trying to kill us, but I don’t agree. These events, these victories, and this organizing is very much building the movement that will also demand voting rights and that will mobilize voters in 2018 and 2020. It’s all part of one effort.
This week was a great start. Let’s keep the love flowing.
Oh and, Silent Sam, you’re next. You stand for racist brutality and you always have. It’s time to stand down.
You yourself with the steady brown hands
by Kriti Sharma, February 13th, 2017
Imagine for a moment having hands on the levers of this world. Imagine not having to go through extraordinary and psychically costly effort to lovingly and very very carefully persuade someone to put down the gun. Imagine, in a swift and compassionate motion, simply taking the gun, unloading the bullets, hurling the pistol into the sea, harmless, a new home for clams.
Imagine not having to beg this tender, human male – tangle of ordinary need, knotted and luminous and deep – imagine not having to have diligently studied the blueprints of his inner labyrinth just to acquire a bite to eat. Years of careful scholarship, to know when you’ve edged too close to the closed and stubborn core, to know precisely what and how and how much you can reveal of your true person before some inner siren begins to wail in him and he is shutting down, shutting you out, and shutting the padlock on the refrigerator door.
Imagine patiently sawing open the padlock. Imagine opening the refrigerator door yourself. You – yes you, you yourself with the steady brown hands – imagine being able to open the refrigerator door, and to take what you need.
Imagine the direct path – as direct as may be possible – between here and some livable future. Imagine untwisting the line so it is a little cleaner and clearer. “Cut out the middleman,” as they say. Less energy lost to detours, more power left to be a cause in the world.
Imagine taking power. Imagine being able to do it, to be able to empty the guns and fill the refrigerators, and leave them unlocked and available to sustain everyday life. Imagine yourself the hands of the bodhisattva, skillful and steady, steering by the stars of wisdom and compassion. Imagine making mistakes, and trying again, and never giving up on your own good heart, on your bravehearted people, or on the generous earth. Imagine the enslaved ending slavery mid-sea, steering the ship as liberated beings towards a livable home.
Friends, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that Trump’s seemingly random and ill-informed actions are not part of President Bannon’s strategy.
They’ll bleed the public of money, culture, education, health, and community. They’ll sow chaos and violence. And they’ll beef up institutions that can enforce their coup: police & military.
This is truly disturbing to contemplate but do not look away! Turn toward the fear (as Pema Chodron would say), open your eyes and your heart. Batten down your hatches however you can and prepare for the worst. Then mobilize, speak out, tuck your body into places so the wheels of fascism don’t turn.
Stop being surprised that Trump is doing everything he said he would. He may well be the greediest man alive. History will remember how we responded.
Thanks to the American Friends Service Committee for publishing these two wonderful posters for resisting racism and bigotry. AFSC is a great organization. I collaborated with them when I worked at the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Driven by a desire to provide tools for schools and the larger community to create space for discussion and declare solidarity, artists Micah Bazant and Kate DeCiccio partnered with AFSC, Forward Together, Jewish Voice for Peace, Center for New Community, and Showing Up for Racial Justice to produce these beautiful images.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”