The Split the Rock Festival inspired by Audre Lorde’s quote: “There are too many silences to be broken” inspired me in many ways. The first panel I attended, “Now What? Everyday Experience and Resistance in the Middle East,” centered around the discussion of poetry from the Middle East and the role of activist poets in resisting oppression there. I was particularly moved by readings of Mahmoud Darwish’s work on Palestine. This festival, in addition to Audre Lorde’s writings in Sister Outsider, gave me renewed energy to write about a topic that has been on my mind for a while now. For a long time I’ve thought about writing an Op-Ed for Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to express my frustration with trying to organize around Palestine on a deeply Zionist campus: in which every event, direct action, and post by SJP is labeled anti-Semitic, especially if it falls during Israeli Apartheid Week. It is incredibly distracting from the work we are trying to do and silencing if we were to succumb to that pressure. For a while I thought, what right do I have to complain about trying to organize around Palestine in America when I have the luxury to just quit if I wanted to while, on the other hand, people in Palestine are tortured both physically and mentally when trying to cross a border just to visit family, go to school, or get medical treatment? Clearly my struggles are not as bad. Maybe I should not even complain all.
Then I realized this is all part of the same occupation. Occupying minds, spaces, discourses. Colonizers do not stop at occupying land. In fact the power of occupying and dominating narratives largely aids and supports their physical oppression. (Read: Fanon) Audre Lorde says, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change” (112). SJP members have been asked countless times to join others for coffee to discuss our club and “the conflict,” to co-host events in which Palestinian puppets complicit with Israeli authority want to have “dialogue,” to make sure we are tame in discussing this “conflict”--to be careful not to offend anyone because it’s a “very complicated issue.” We cannot use the oppressor’s framework over coffee to dismantle oppression. As far as I’m concerned there is a clear oppressor and a clear population being oppressed. I’m not sure where the confusion is or why I should be careful to not insult people supporting this occupation whether they realize it or not, with their explicit support of the Israeli government perpetrating these crimes or their silence on the occupation. I will not discuss Palestine on terms of oppression, with those who insist Israel is just defending itself from terrorists, with those who do not insist on ending settlements in Palestine. I refused to co-host events that were only intended to show we want to have peaceful dialogue. NO, I want change! I am not interested in just talking. Many students in SJP have not publicized their affiliation with SJP. Understandably so, this is because Palestinian activist students are regularly harassed and put on lists of being anti-Semites through many sites and organizations dedicated to this. (Google if you wish. I will not give them publicity by sharing the link.)
In The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, an excerpt from Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde says, “In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear- fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live… We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners must as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid” (42). This is my attempt to start sharing parts of myself that need to be unsilenced. Lorde’s powerful statement reminds me of a popular TedEx talk by Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability which shares similar sentiments about the courage it takes to speak out without worrying about judgment. Lorde explains, “we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us” (44).This reminds me that there will never be a perfect time to do what frightens us the most. We won’t magically get over our fears or silences without working through them.
“The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying. When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar. I have tried to learn my anger’s usefulness to me as well as limitations ” (131).
As some of what I stated may be taken wrong by someone, I would like to clarify that there is a difference in targeting individuals and targeting systems of oppression. Anger is an emotion, not an action. Anger is an alarm that something wrong is happening.
As we discussed throughout class, and during this panel, sometimes activism is writing, in the poetry itself. Here is an attempt to share a part of myself, inspired by Palestine:
What is a beginning?
It started with a rock. No, with a gun. Now go back. We were here first. Anywhere but here. Even further. Further. Now leave.
What is a beginning? Where do I begin? Is it the end of a previous begining? The start of another end? Darkness to light. Light to darkness. Chicken or egg?
Break of dawn. The setting of the sun. The rise of the moon.
Birth. Death. Life.
It began with happiness. No, no with sadness.
This beginning is exile. Now it’s settlement.
The peak. The dip. The top. The bottom.
The British Mandate.
The origin. The inception. The blastoff. The genesis. The Fatiha. The beginning is the root. It’s the essence. The border. The threshold. It’s the cause, the purpose. So basically the end. Where to begin?