Square image with test that begins "if our survival is to be Jewish by tema okun"

we have become / the pharaoh

I have been so incredibly grateful for the leadership and energy of people like Jewish Voice for Peace who are making it abundantly clear that there are many many of us American Jews that do not support Israel at the expense of Palestinian human rights. The best time to make this clear would have been decades ago but the second best time is right now.

For years I have been called “antisemitic” by Jews who conflate Israel with the Jewish people. Not only do we not owe any loyalty to that colonial apartheid state, I believe Jews are actively harmed by their actions as Israel rightly becomes a global pariah and claims to be acting for US!

Tema Okun is a long-time anti-racist trainer and changemaker. She is the author of the widely circulated article “White Supremacy Culture” which was originally written and published in 1999 and continues to educate and transform the way white people understand ourselves and our impact in the world. Last week, Tema offered us this poem, “If our survival is to be Jewish.”

If our survival is to be Jewish

i

my tears are crying
I am drowning

no longer wandering
in the wilderness
we have become
the pharaoh

ii

centuries of
sacred celebration
and suffering
sunk into strident subjugation

the mirror is cracking

iii

my despair is desperate
I am trembling

our prayers
so full of longing
mock us

we chant
in the shade
of a homeland
shuttering for half a century
the lives of humans
we push out of sight behind
(prison) Walls

iv

my anger is angry
I am shaking

our silence grows deadly
with the deal we’ve made
to defend our hearts
from knowing
they love their children
their laughter their lives
as much as we do

v

my rage is raging
I am bent
over

Jewish godmother to
an exuberant Palestinian boy,
now a man

my love for him
a kind of genesis,
his love for me a kind of grace

he would hate us
otherwise

not any kind of anti-Semitism

consequences
for making of him a demon,
and discarding him daily in the dust
of so many, too many checkpoints

vi

my trauma is traumatized
I am broken

we condemn them
for making corpses of
our children
as we make corpses
of theirs

the math of it
is bleeding us

dry

vii

my people, my Jewish people,
I don’t know how to reach you

our fear is afraid
and forgets
we are the ones
settling, seizing, sequestering

we pile fear upon fear like
stacks of rubble from
houses demolished
dreams destroyed
for decades

viii

my grief is grieving
I am wailing

we did not outlive
the horrors of holocaust
to hoard survival
like this

to hollow ourselves out

ix

or did we

x

my people, my Jewish people,

tell me it is not too late
to choose another way.

Tema Okun, Oct. 26, 2023
A quilt depicting four bookshelves with books and ideas that have been banned or attacked in the last 100 years. It has a thick yellow order, and the words "Targeted & Banned" embroidered at the top.

Celebrate Pride by stopping book bans

I was enraged, but not surprised when The Washington Post reported recently that “an analysis of book challenges from across the nation shows the majority were filed by just 11 people.” While many on the far-right would have us believe there is some kind of grassroots groundswell against teaching accurate history and respecting people of all genders and sexualities, the truth is that this “unprecedented” astroturf movement has been skillfully crafted by people who only care about money and power. 

[L]ibrary and free speech advocates warn that the rise in book challenges, especially those targeting LGBTQ texts, will imperil teachers’ ability to do their jobs, undermine the mental health of LGBTQ students and rob children of exposure to lives different from their own.

“Objection to sexual, LGBTQ content propels spike in book challenges” Washington Post 5/24/23

This is so important for us to understand (especially during Pride Month since more than half of challenged books have LGBTQ+ themes) because Americans can and should stand up for the values of freedom and equality that our country was founded on. Hate groups like the so-called Moms For Liberty, American College of Pediatricians, Alliance Defending Freedom, and many more are fronts for the same forces that have been working for my entire lifetime against the equality of everyone who doesn’t look like they just stepped out of a meeting of President Nixon’s Cabinet, pictured here in the year I was born.

Continue reading “Celebrate Pride by stopping book bans”
Casablanca screen capture: "I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find that gambling is going on in here"

Naïve liberals, please get out of the way

I can’t get over all these people who are shocked SHOCKED that right wing talking heads implored Trump to call off the insurrection but then immediately went on TV and blamed “antifa” for storming the Capitol.

No-one believed that garbage then unless they very badly wanted to. It was complete nonsense on its face.

The credulous media have blood on their hands. The vast majority of elected Republicans have been actively working to subvert democracy itself for over a decade. It’s right in front of our faces.

We cannot and MUST NOT consider “both sides” of civil rights and human dignity.If you didn’t know Republicans were trying to steal this country then you have been willfully ignoring the voices of Black people, women, the LGBTQ+ community, poor people, immigrants, and more.

Maybe you think we’re just less credible or respectable than white dudes in suits, but that’s YOUR bias. “Objectivity” is a lie.

Or as I said five years ago: No more innocent liberal surprise.

Casablanca screen capture: "Your winnings, sir." "Oh thank you very much."
Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC

None of us are free until all of us are free

One year ago today, I and eight other lovely humans were arrested by the Graham Police Department as we attempted to walk to the Alamance County Detention Center and hold a Jewish-led ceremony to say #NeverAgain, to mourn the many who have suffered at the hands of ICE, and to protect the ICE detainees currently held by Alamance County’s racist sheriff Terry Johnson.

Half of the group is STILL being charged, but the nine of us are fortunate to have the freedom to not be detained while we await trials. Unfortunately others are not as lucky. With COVID the jail is even more inhumane than ever. Please donate to Down Home North Carolina’s bailout fund to free as many people as possible:

https://downhomenc.org/2020/09/10/mass-bail-out-down-home-alamance-begins-securing-the-release-of-people-incarcerated-during-massive-covid-outbreak-in-the-alamance-county-jail/

Absentee ballot in a mailbox

Vote by mail now, while you still can

Given Trump’s on-going incitement of white supremacists to intimidate voters at the polls, is anyone still wondering why they should vote by mail?

I put my ballot in the mail on Monday without even leaving my house. It was picked up by a mail carrier (working so late that they were wearing a headlamp). Today, Wednesday morning, I got a text from http://northcarolina.ballottrax.net that it’s on the way to the Durham County Board of Elections! So easy. The hardest part was finding an adult to “witness” my absentee ballot.

screenshot

The BallotTrax system is reliable and safe. Certainly safer than I feel about going to vote in person. If you don’t think Trump’s pals will find more ways to make voting harder, riskier (because of COVID) and scarier (because of white supremacists) in the next month then you are definitely not paying attention.

Why tempt a very uncertain future when you can safely vote from home? Republicans want you to to not trust the USPS, but mail carriers are on our side. They’re working their butts off to make sure our votes get delivered and BallotTrax (thanks to NC’s excellent Attorney General Josh Stein) ensures ballots will be counted.

Crowd of protesters facing sheriffs deputies and riot police

Challenging racism and saving souls in Alamance County

Ten months ago, I joined hundreds of Jews, immigrants, and our friends in Graham, North Carolina to say “no more” to the the cruel, racist, and unnecessary practices of ICE and to call out Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson‘s enthusiastic enforcement of their white supremacist agenda. I was arrested at that demonstration, along with nine other lovely human beings.

In the months since then, two things have become even more clear than before. One, our government has no regard for civil rights, human dignity, or democracy and will stop at nothing to promote the interests of the rich, white, and powerful at the expense of everyone else. And two, there are some people in and around Alamance County that will happily and shamelessly attempt to shut down peaceful dissent if it in any way challenges their racist assumptions about the world. (Alamance County is the home base of neo-confederate ACTBAC.) But we’ve also learned that there are even more people in and around Alamance that believe that Black Lives Matter and that protest is patriotic, and they’ve been bravely showing up in the streets of Graham for the past several months.

When I drove to the Never Again protest on November 24, I wasn’t aware there was a Confederate statue in Graham. I learned later that the Sheriff had sent his troopers to the town square to protect it from the imagined threat. Meanwhile, we were four blocks away attempting to peacefully march to the Alamance Detention Center so that we could say the Mourner’s Kaddish, sit shiva, and observe other Jewish rituals in remembrance of the many people who have died in ICE custody. Unfortunately, the racist Sheriff Terry Johnson would not allow this to happen. Ironically, once we were arrested we were transported by the county directly to the same detention center that they prevented us from walking to!

Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC
Photo of me (Ruby Sinreich) being arrested by Officer Ellis of the Haw River Police Department at a protest against ICE and Sheriff Terry Johnson in Graham, North Carolina on November 24, 2019. Photo by Anthony Crider https://www.flickr.com/photos/acrider/49118904508/

As Jews we have a special responsibility to remember the horrors of government-backed xenophobia, the dangers of draconian law enforcement, and the nightmare of illegal incarceration and family separation. When we say NEVER AGAIN, we must mean it. We cannot idly watch the actions of federal, state, and local government as they gradually but steadily march toward fascism. Those of us with privilege are called to spend it now in many forms of resistance large and small to stop the gears of authoritarianism, save people’s lives, and in doing so, save our own souls.

This summer, nonviolent protesters speaking out for Black lives and against the Confederate statue were arrested on a public sidewalk. (The ACLU of NC sued the town of Graham over their anti-protest ordinance and won.) And in recent weeks, as we have learned about a tragic and predictable COVID-19 outbreak at the Alamance detention center, people speaking out for health and human rights were arrested for such nonexistent offenses as swearing in the presence of a police officer.

It’s now undeniable that Alamance County officials have a racism problem, and that elected leaders are not concerned about the health or human rights of their residents. Alamance has the biggest prison COVID outbreak in the state of North Carolina with over 100 cases (out of just about 400 incarcerated people), far surpassing big cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. Thankfully the wonderful people of Down Home NC are working to free as many people from this nightmare as possible by raising bail funds.

In this new context of weekly demonstrations for and against racism in Alamance County, the town of Graham’s reactionary attempts to squelch free speech, and the increasingly grim reality of living in an uncontrolled pandemic stoked by racism, toxic masculinity, and ignorance, the nine of us arrested in Graham last November are scheduled to have our second appearance in court next week! You can show your support for us by donating to the Alamance Mass Bail Out.

Never Again Action in Graham (2019 Nov)
Enjoy scrolling through this album of Tony Crider’s excellent photos from November 24, 2019 in Graham.


Mapping police brutality

I’m sure this only scratches the surface because it only tracks incidents of police violence that are reported on Twitter but I really appreciate folks (including Durham lawyer Greg Doucette) for putting this together.

See also The Guardian‘s site The Counted, which they created to track police killings in 2015 because no-one else was even doing it.

Pence, McConnell, & Trump

It’s not incompetence

I cannot understand people’s insistence on believing that Republicans are failing because they are incompetent. They are extremely strategic, they just don’t have any intrinsic morality. They will grab all the money and power within reach, and they’ll believe it was right if they don’t get caught.

Even in the areas where they simply lack the skills or capacity needed to govern, that is a strategic choice. They don’t want there to be an effective safety net, schools, public health, transportation network, public safety, healthy environment, or anything that connects us socially or culturally.

People who are poor, sick, isolated, scared, and hopeless are easier to manipulate, especially by authoritarians that appeal to the worst parts of human nature, ie: Republicans.

Rant inspired by this Twitter thread:

Das Andere Deutschland's final issue, announcing its own prohibition on the basis of the Reichstag fire decree.

How to get away with fascism

  1. Stoke paranoia. Deprive, dehumanize, physically weaken, and isolate people.
  2. Cause/provoke crisis. (Or at minimum, ensure government is not prepared to handle inevitable crisis. Hurricane, anyone?)
  3. Justify consolidation of power and suspension of human rights, civil society, and democracy.

Do you know about the politics of Weimar Germany when Hitler rose to power because the establishment thought they could use the Nazis and bend them to their own will? Do you know about the Reichstag Fire which Hitler leveraged just a month after becoming Chancellor to effectively end democracy and civil liberties in Germany? Can you tell me any reason that it couldn’t happen here? All the groundwork is already in place.