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Trayvon and the road ahead

P942 Travon for site“What do we do now?” While marchers chanted “No justice, no peace,” this question kept coming up in interactions along the route. The question was about more than the verdict. It was about the Supreme Court gutting the voting rights act; state governments undermining the right to organize and women’s reproductive rights; police powers reaching into elementary schools, sweeping up young NY pedestrians and sending paramilitary SWAT teams crashing through doors in residential neighborhoods. It was about corporations with the rights of people and people deprived of them. As the outrages seem to pile up on top of each other, how do we make our actions count? It was a young man we were marching for that day and will continue to hold in our hearts but we were also marching for that larger question of hope and change. That is what I wish to speak to now.

Ricardo Levins Morales

Ricardo Levins Morales

For me it begins with a deep breath. Then I ask myself what I’m missing. This is particularly important for people prone to hopelessness. You see, things don’t feel hopeless because there aren’t options; you just can’t see the options if you feel hopeless. Here are a few observations that come to mind when pondering the question at hand.

1) History moves in a spiral, not in a circle. The racist practices that were in place when Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 are still operative in the time of Trayvon Martin but they play out on a different landscape. Then Jim Crow was in full bloom. Today a coalition of moneyed and fanatical interests – panicked at the prospect of an increasingly brown nation – are trying to bring it back. They are meticulous in their methods but the strategy itself is ill-conceived and will ultimately backfire.

2) The powerful are always fearful. The National Security Agency is collecting troves of information about all of us. The national security machinery has been accumulating power for decades. The rationale is whatever people will fall for. Today it is about “keeping us safe.” Its managers understand what we have not figured out: that we the people have tremendous power. They must watch closely for any signs that we’ve caught on.

3) Hot, explosive anger is cathartic but fleeting. Slow-burning anger is fuel for long-term change. Despairing sadness paralyzes. Loving sadness empowers. Choose your anger. Choose your sadness.

4) You will be exposed to much nonsense about the trial and its meaning. You can decide when it is strategic to respond. You do not need to be Trayvon’s defense attorney against those who would prosecute him. You have more important things to do.

5) This country was founded on racial dominance.  There is no avoiding the consequences. A large proportion of white people have no idea as to how it works. Where I live, it is a marker of working class upward mobility to own a cabin on a lake. White politicians describe how their families worked hard for the family home, the good education and the cabin. It is undoubtedly true.  They don’t understand that others worked as hard but were not allowed to collect. They don’t know that until recently the lake associations required a pledge to not sell to blacks; that companies had policies against hiring non-whites; that few colleges would admit people of color and that realtors would jack up prices for dark folk. As white folk singer John Gorka puts it in a remarkable song, “I didn’t know my way was paid.”

People rarely change their minds because someone has argued with them (or yelled at them). They change when a changed atmosphere makes the unthinkable thinkable. White support for civil rights grew when the ferocity of the black southern struggle shook the fence on which they were sitting until it became too uncomfortable to remain there.

6) Your opponents will tell you their vulnerabilities. You may have noticed that our country has two systems of mass incarceration: one for the dark and poor and one specifically for immigrants. Most people contained in them have not actually harmed anyone. This suggests that these populations are reservoirs of power that could threaten the status quo. These systems are not broken. They are effective. They need to be broken.

7) Do not fear messiness. The issues we face are complex. We don’t need to be afraid of them. How is it that a Latino man in Florida takes on the mantle of the white vigilante cause in a time of resurgent Jim Crow? What led the white and Latina women on the jury to sympathize more with Zimmerman’s fear than with Martin’s? What can we learn about the complexities of identity, ambition and solidarity? When our neat assumptions are defeated by the world we must kiss them goodbye and ask big questions. We can do this.

8) Change is not steady. It lurches from one tipping point to the next. When enough water saturates a slope it produces a landslide. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted. States are moving to revive voter ID laws and proceed with the racialized election practices we’ve seen in recent years involving the locations of polling places, availability of ballots, limits on voting days and misinformation on all of the above. This moves us toward a tipping point.

9) Flipping the story. If they succeed in substantial disenfranchisement we can flip the story. We can declare elections under such conditions invalid. That means that officials so elected are not legitimate. Laws “passed” by fraudulent bodies are not binding. Popular councils can pass their own, non-discriminatory, measures or organize referenda and establish them as the people’s will. Political struggle is about consciousness and legitimacy. If they push discrimination as far as they hope to they will be handing us pure movement gold. It will come down to it.

9) The dots are connected.  The central fact of our time is that we live with austerity at the bottom and gluttony at the top. This can only work if we are fighting each other for crumbs of opportunity and shreds of dignity. If we are to create a world in which future Trayvons can live without fear, we will need to share the bounty of the world and take good care of it.

Remember: hopelessness is an illusion. Intention plus courage plus clarity is the solution.

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About Ricardo Levins Morales

Ricardo Levins Morales is an artist, activist and trickster organizer originally from the mountains of western Puerto Rico (with the love of coffee to prove it). He uses his art to help community groups, unions and social justice movements achieve their goals and further their values. His art can be seen at www.rlmartstudio.com.

19 comments on “Trayvon and the road ahead

  1. ricknelsonmn
    July 27, 2013

    RIGHT ON Ricardo!

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  4. Karlie Cole
    July 21, 2013

    Brilliant, honoring, brave and practical. I am honored to know you Ricardo. Thank you! Wopila!

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  6. eva
    July 18, 2013

    This article brought tears to my eyes & empowerment to my soul. I’m re-energizing with clarity. Thank you! “Remember: hopelessness is an illusion. Intention plus courage plus clarity is the solution.”

  7. Pingback: Four Voices for Racial Justice: Honoring Trayvon Martin with Action | Voices for Racial Justice

  8. starrifawn
    July 18, 2013

    You are a blessing to the world, thank you so much

  9. starrifawn
    July 18, 2013

    You are a blessing to the world, thank you so much.

  10. Michael Amiro
    July 17, 2013

    Why is this an issue after a death. Where are you in 3 months. Move on people. Do not glamorize a terrible situation

  11. Michael Bubba Morse
    July 17, 2013

    I find your entire argument flawed. When/how did the SCOTUS gut the Voting Rights Act? But more importantly, how does the Florida Vs. Zimmerman even play into that?! I read through your testament, but saw a lot of Hypocrisy.

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  13. changeagentflowers
    July 17, 2013

    I Have numerous thoughts, experiences, and questions related to the current state of America. I am a Black man, 60 plus years of age, emotional and physical survivor of infant domestic violence perpetrated by my, “white” mother, MSW level clinical social worker, currently homeless living in a respite shelter and PTSD DX. I have been a life long Peace with Social Justice activist thus i know the HX of the USA from a Black Marxist perspective. I have traveled around America most recently driving through Mexico with IFCO Pasters for peace friendshipment of humanitarian aide bound for Cuba. My Peace with Social Justice activities and resume never match due to the fact that my social change work would never be accepted to any employer that would hire me. I attended a showing of a film about Assata Shakur, who now has a 2 million bounty dead or alive on her head by the FBI, last evening at the University of Chicago, It was the most unordinary event i have ever attended, outside of the caravan and brigadista work, in that the black youth provided cultural sharings that engaged those attending reminding me of the cultural work of the 60′ that most people that i d as “white”, then and it seems now, never really got or get. Since i have been to Cuba on numerous occasions i have first hand experience of what can be accomplished when an enlightened population take back their entire culture and all that goes with it. I have grieved the loss of the so called, “American Democratic Experiment”. I have grieved it to the point where i came to realize it was just another illusion. As the youth echoed Assata’ sharing in the film last night, i sat speechless with chills running through me and i recalled that year in the late eighties when i met Assata and her daughter one hot summer night in Havana during another cultural celebration with the people of Cuba and select members of the Venceremos Brigade. The thought came to me today: As America gets closer to the period where drones fly over every city, the super max prisons, immigrant detention centers and every facility that can house humans, are filled with those feared most by the apparatuses of Human Oppression, Monsanto will most likely own more land and every form of seed needed to grow GMO’ than any other entity and the water supplies are so contaminated that it costs to buy it, Black men, outside of the state sanctioned but owned by the penal corporation, most likely will be close to if not actually considered an endangered out-liner in the population of America the example of Trayvon Martin won’t be available to martyr, sympathize, lament or whatever. The world of Black people as i have experienced it on the streets of Chicago, Provinces of Cuba and Mexico have enough Trayvon Martins who have the consciousness to resist the multi institutional oppression that has lulled American’ into a self induced hypnotic state. My question to those that i d as: “white” when and how will you take back your cultural identities and demand an end to the only “race based” census, in este mundo, that is one of the bedrocks of the current political machinations intended to maintain American Institutional Racism? I posit: Until “white” America casts of its consumer consumption cultural identity the progression of corporate control of all the institutions, from the school board, leaders to the white house will deepen. Black people in America, with a few spirit led Caucasian allies with a sense of their deep cultural ties to indigenous cultural struggles, have throughout America’ short history demonstrated what collective sacrifice and sustained struggle can achieve. People in America that i d as, “white”, including all those of “Hispanic” identity, must work on themselves collectively to really get to the place where empathy replaces sympathy when a child is killed with deadly force, that does not look like them or represent any one they know intimately enough to attend their funeral, support their grieving parents and move to change “By Any Means Necessary”, every institution that allows such to happen.
    “Flowers Riding Big Horn Ram”

    • Ricardo Levins Morales
      July 17, 2013

      You’ve said a lot, brother. I would just say that people with privilege do not tend to lead the change that will challenge that privilege (whites around racism, men around sexism, etc.). They are certainly capable of change and some can be beautiful leaders but it is usually following the initiative of the people most harmed. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for “white America” to lead the way – we can, however create the conditions that will support the change and will allow the empathy you talk about to break out of the cell it is locked in.

  14. Jay McGregor
    July 17, 2013

    It is so refreshing to read something that offers encouragement and direction. This is like a cool, hopeful, breeze amid the stifling heat created by the rants and knee jerk opinions. Thanks Ricardo for your thoughtful voice.

  15. xgecoder
    July 17, 2013

    Inspiring reading. Absolutely agree with your understanding of our society and it’s factions. I am working with Move to Amend to bring true democracy back to our country, to have our people control our government not the wealthy and corporations. The corporatocracy supports “austerity at the bottom and gluttony at the bottom”. It deliberately sets one group against another, fighting for those crumbs. Change can come if we the people recognize what we are up against, join together to amend the US Constitution to state that Constitutional Rights are only for human beings, not for any entity created by man and that money is not speech and can be regulated on electoral matters.
    Join us!

  16. Stephanie
    July 17, 2013

    Thank you for the thoughtful essay. Reading it was comforting, as we can effect change. It will be a slow process but we can move forward, even in these troubled times.

    On a side note, did you create the image? I find it very powerful!

  17. Bob Simpson
    July 17, 2013

    Brilliant. I hope this is shared widely.

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