Tag Archives: resistance

“Still I Rise” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

Maya Angelou’s voice was one of resistance and progress through celebration and hopefulness. She’s rarely called upon or referenced as a precursor to Slam and contemporary of the Beat poets because she was so unique a voice, focused on cultural experience and the future rather than personal history and the past.

She’s extraordinarily important today. Many do work in organizing, activism, and politics that burn us out. There’s a hopelessness that’s tempting because anger can be used as fuel, and our anger is very legitimate. Yet giving into it fully risks our greatest strength in terms of resisting: community.

Community can’t just be built on anger; it has to be built on hope, connection, a path forward. Anger risks isolation, and isolation is what wears us out the most. It makes our thinking two-dimensional and inflexible.

Anger has a place – it’s certainly earned, and you should never ask vulnerable communities not to be angry at their exposure and the history of harm they’ve sustained. You can even see Angelou’s show through here.

At the same time, anger must be tempered in Resistance, one of many emotions we learn to sit with and which can contribute to complex, realistic, flexible communities of activism.

The feature image of Maya Angelou comes from the New York Times’ farewell to the great poet. You can find it here.

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The Work That’s Never Witnessed — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

by Gabriel Valdez

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James 2:17

“Now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like.”

– Michelle Obama

After Donald Trump was elected, several people sought me out because of the work I’ve done in politics. They told me, “I’m willing to die opposing him.” I told them that attitude made them useless.

Show up to a march with the idea that you’re willing to die, and you’ll see everything that happens in that light. You’re so focused on the idea of a noble, meaningful, romantic act of sacrifice…that you won’t even think about protecting the person next to you. You become so obsessed with fighting something that you forget that you’re there to save something.

Who do you think builds something? The one there to nobly sacrifice themselves, or the one there who doles out water, who helps the elderly who grow tired, who communicates from the front of the march to the back what to look out for, or who is ready with first aid supplies in case of violence.

I don’t want someone willing to die. I want someone willing to make sure the person next to them lives.

Do you think the people who have died in marches wanted to? They wanted to live. They were scared for their lives. That’s what makes their sacrifices meaningful. They were there for a purpose. They were there to do work. They were there to hold each other up in an effort that would have been impossible on their own.

Resistance is not a romantic thing. It’s not built on some great act of sacrifice unique to you. It’s not an identity. In fact, it’s not about you. Resistance, and faith, and hope are all built from the same single thing: you show up day after day and you do the work of it.

That work is sometimes grueling and heartbreaking. It wears you down. It tests your spirit. It tests your boundaries. It can break you. There is often no witness for it, especially when the work is performed by women or people of color (or LGBTQ, or the disabled). There is often no reward.

You do the work and it joins with the work of all those around you, and maybe something terrible happens anyway. Was the work useless? Or did you prevent something even more terrible from happening? How do you measure it? How do you assess the amount of work every person did? Often, the only thing you know is that there’s more work to do.

You often feel penned into a corner. How does the universe keep going like this? What use are you? Are you even denting the things you seek to stop? Doesn’t matter. There’s more work, and that work helps people.

“The Last Jedi” is built around being worn thin. It’s built around desperation. It’s built on the back of a Rebellion that has dwindled, but keeps on doing the work.

Many of the heroes willing to sacrifice themselves keep trading on everyone else’s credit. They may come close to death, but as they escape it, it’s others who pay the consequences for their heroism.

“Star Wars” has always relied on building myths, and it’s built some good ones. “The Last Jedi” cares deeply about those myths. It also doesn’t feel beholden to them. It doesn’t feel as if those myths are sacred. In fact, it considers many of those myths downright dangerous.

Myths make us believe that our single heroic action can save the day. And our heroes? Well they’re our saviors. What’s the point of doing all that grueling work day after day if we can just tag a savior in? Hamilton electors, Jill Stein’s recount, Obama’s press conference, the Steele dossier, Mueller, impeachment, Susan Collins for a minute, Jeff Flake for two seconds, Bob Corker for half a breath, all of them saviors at some point since the election.

And yet…somehow we go unsaved.

It’s almost as if the work is up to us.

Some of these things have produced useful results, and some might yet, but only if we do the work that gives them the space to make a change. This is what “The Last Jedi” is about. It’s about persisting, about not putting all our hope in saviors, and not putting faith in our noble ideas of romantic sacrifice. It’s about enduring. There’s sacrifice here, but the only meaningful sacrifice is that which saves someone else. Otherwise, it’s not really a sacrifice, is it?

We find ourselves in the face of a moment that threatens to overwhelm us. As we grow tired, we grow separate, we lose our ability to trust – not just in each other, but that what we’re doing makes a difference. We rebel not just against them, but against each other. We do the work of breaking ourselves for them. And that’s the strategy of how they win, how they erase democracy. They do so by tiring us, by making us grow lonely and hopeless because each of us begins thinking we’re willing to die for something, instead of thinking we’re willing to keep on doing the work day after day.

If you came here for a review, “The Last Jedi” is superb. Writer-director Rian Johnson takes the style and filmic grammar of all the other “Star Wars” entries, even the prequels, and folds them into what feels like an entire trilogy’s worth of story. There are beautiful moments here that feel like still pieces of art, planets that feel built from impressions of emotion. There is a deep melancholy to the film, and a resilient hope.

Yet it acknowledges from the first seconds that “Star Wars” is silly, and that maybe by not adhering to the strict orthodoxy expected of it, it can still be a flexible, meaningful place to tell stories. It’s rare that a film can achieve bleak despair and steady silliness, a tragic reality and a determined irreverence.

It’s not a perfect film, but I think the perfect “Star Wars” film that it could be would be something far lesser.

“The Last Jedi” is a film that can feed a certain soul, one that’s doing the work and growing weary, and feeling more distant from all the other souls doing the work and growing weary.

More than anything else, “The Last Jedi” establishes what it feels like not to feel hope yet to create it, to have your expectations of saviors undermined and realize the power you loaned them is your own. It makes you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable and at risk because you always were, but now you’re doing something about it. It also reminds us that faith in saviors, if it does not have the works or the work behind it, is meaningless.

Go see this thing. Go persist and be resilient.

And remember you’re not alone. The work you do is a spark that carries, that we’re all trying to feed, and our little corner of the universe is in the mood for light.

The feature image of Daisy Ridley as Rey is from Cosmic Book News here.

Ferguson Sacrificed Itself to Give Us an Opportunity

Ferguson flames 3

by Gabriel Valdez

Protestors setting their community alight in acts of brazen defiance? I’m so glad people are supportive of these acts of frustrated protest. That such civil disobedience can raise $121 million in our country over a weekend is remarkable. Truly, we understand our long history of protest against a justice system established to find the poor and downtrodden guilty of being poor and downtrodden, that ghettoizes minorities, and reports on those less fortunate as if they were animals.

Those successful riots and acts of defiance were in The Hunger Games, though. Why do we find those acts compelling on a movie screen and, days later, turn around and condemn them in Ferguson, Missouri?

We just had our hearts moved by the struggle of a people who feel oppressed and must violently rebel. We saw the sacrifices they had to make in order to do so, sacrifices that most of us have never had to face and might not be willing to make. We just saw it in a movie, now it’s happening in real life, and we have the gall as a people to feel more empathy for the characters who are made up with names like Katniss and Peeta?

We look on in horror at buildings burning, at tear gas in the streets, at injured being loaded into cars and rushed to the hospital. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t want anyone’s livelihood to be ruined. Yet in many ways I am thankful this is happening. I was worried this would fizzle out, that people would shrug and go back home and there would be protests but they would have lost their heart. Instead, people who were willing to risk life and limb in order to display their frustration with a broken justice system forced this conversation to be front and center. Today, we cannot ignore it.

They did it using the very tools we so often cheer on screen. Why can’t we cheer them the same way here?

When any of us don’t get what we feel we deserve in our lives, sometimes we get angry. On a city-wide (or nation-wide) scale, when what you want is justice, equal treatment, and a fair trial according to the rule of our land, getting angry is going to mean fires and rocks and lord knows what else. But you know what? Every ethnicity – Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, African-Americans, every single ethnicity – has had to get monumentally angry at some point in our history in order to get heard. To say your ethnicity’s moment of anger was somehow more warranted than this one doesn’t leave the door open behind you.

When the system so clearly breaks, moments of such widespread anger are the only thing capable of causing change over time. To pretend as if the residents of Ferguson are doing anything different than what every race has a long history of doing in the United States is, to put it quite simply, insanely racist.

Is Ferguson’s reaction too violent? Is it too destructive? You know what? I’m not going through what they’re going through. I am not qualified to be their judge. If you’re sitting at home, watching news anchors call them traitors or field reporters trespass to shove cameras in the faces of those suffering, then chances are you are not qualified to be their judges either. Whether they intend to or not, Ferguson burned down their city last night for so many other cities that face the same struggle. That their city burned down last night means other cities might not. If we cheer their cause. If we pay attention.

You want to be exactly like your heroes on screen, like Katniss and Peeta and Luke and Han and Leia and Maleficent and Captain America? You cheer on this cause. You don’t avert your eyes. You witness it. You let it burn into you so that you remember how damaging and painful injustice is. This moment can be a memory that changes something, that makes all that pain worth it. Or it can be a moment that happens again and again and again.

There is no difference between what happens on-screen in a movie and what happens in real life, except this: You can change what happens in real life. You can be the hero. All a hero is made of is the willingness to help. Don’t waste this opportunity to make your voice known. Don’t waste this opportunity to stand up for people who are suffering. A city burned. How much pain do you have to feel to burn your city? Do something about that pain. Be brave, make mistakes, but do something about that pain.