Moving Beyond Solidarity
Living for Change
By Tawana Petty Special to the Michigan Citizen
I had the honor of speaking to and performing for 500 students, instructors, activists and organizers from around the globe at the 4th Annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (#NSJP2014) Conference at Tufts University in Boston, Mass, October 24-26. I struggle with calling it a conference because it was unlike any organized gathering I had experienced to date. I learned to say the South African version of “Power to the People” through call “Amandla!” and response “Awethu,” witnessed the beautiful Palestinian dabke dance with several hundred people from across the globe and performed a poem dedicated to my beloved Detroit city, as others celebrated their home cities and countries. It was a deeply spiritual experience.
I was invited to Tufts to speak on the Environmental Justice panel focused on water. The delegations for this particular workshop represented Detroit, Palestine and Hawaii. It was encouraging to see the groups of young people who were present for our talk, especially those representing SJPs across the globe, the Dream Defenders and Black Youth Project (BYP100), all of which are youth led organizations I have been following and whose work I admire.
The Hawaiian delegation spoke about the atrocities they were facing with regard to water and land insecurity, and the women who are paraded around for show with coconut bras on for touristic pleasure and the extreme militarism which keeps the natives muted and in check during the unwanted infiltration of their homeland. While listening to them, I couldn’t help but to think about the thriving Midttown — still Cass Corridor to me — back home, located smack in the middle of 120,000 proposed water shut-offs, 80,000 tax foreclosures, pension cuts, school closings and demolitions, patrolled by private security teams and heavy police presence who have consistently shuffled away poor folks so that spectators and new, more acceptable residents could feel at ease. It was like we were kindred spirits in our struggles to maintain our dignity and humanity.
Our workshop was wrapped up by a Palestinian delegate who painted a vivid picture of the inhumane treatment of Palestinians who are also suffering from water and land insecurity in Israeli occupied Palestine. His weaving together of the Veolia water connection from Palestine to Detroit, which I had briefly referenced in my presentation was masterful. He went on to describe the transit discrimination Palestinians were facing, which is reminiscent of the transportation woes faced by Detroiters who not only have intentional limited access to suburban cities through our current transit system, but who will soon watch a nearly $200 million dollar M-1 rail circle through their neighborhoods, fuel up and turn around, leaving them behind, as they await a public bus which may not come.
When you live in a predominately Black city where resources are nearly extinct for poor residents, you can’t help but to feel a sort of solidarity with other oppressed groups. However, this experience was unique. It was about moving beyond solidarity. It was about moving beyond borders. It was about transnational movement building which respects and uplifts the work of people who live in the oppressed communities, yet expands past social media profile pics and hashtags as referenced by Linda Tigani of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). It was about recognizing when crisis jumping to communities who are already engaged in resisting their power structures, should come secondary to a peoples’ resistance to the power dynamics of their own communities. This un-conference provided a space for admitting to and struggling against anti-blackness in Arab communities, tackling rape culture on every level and waging love through the process. It was about respecting gender self-identity and listening with our hearts and spirits. It was about refraining from falling back into our respective bubbles and collectively creating alternatives together.
I was pleased to hear about the successful Derail Veolia campaign waged by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements in Palestine, as Detroiters continue to face the threat of an insidious Veolia undertaking. Listening to the BDS stories solidified my view that the people have the final say.
I returned home with a strengthened resolve to bridge the gaps between organizers across borders while building towards self-determination and creating alternatives for my community and communities who are on the ground building towards a just society in Palestine, Hawaii, South Africa, Ferguson, India, and beyond. Folks at NSJP2014 were clear that resistance takes on many forms, including creating something new, which was refreshing to hear coming off the heels of the New Work New Culture Conference.
October 24-26, 2014 was a redefining moment for me, a silver lining to the cloud which had been hovering over my spirit. When you are constantly on the front lines of a particular battle, it can be difficult to see your battle through the eyes of others. It can be difficult to erase the lines that divide you. I look forward to continuing a meaningful build with the millennials who have chosen to take on the difficult task of humanizing this country.
Thank you Kristian Bailey for inviting me to grow my soul, and for reintroducing me to my humanity.