The Stormy Present

This is a pair of essays I started writing several weeks apart that I later realized shared a common theme. Namely, my own need to confront our increasingly apocalyptic reality, and utter inability to do so in any effective, satisfying way.

CW (Mild references, nothing graphic or descriptive): Racism, Migrant Detention Camps and Deaths, MMIW, Catholic Sexual Abuse, Violence (Racial, Queer/Trans, Women, Sex Workers)

Part 1 – “To Share or Not To Share”

June 26th

It was a Facebook post. A pretty upsetting one. A gallery with the names, stories, and pictures of migrant children who’ve died in US Government custody over the last year or so. Captioned with “DO NOT FUCKING LOOK AWAY.” Or maybe my liberal outrage added the “FUCKING” in my imagination. Already, just 10 minutes later. But I think it was really there.

I read all of them. Maybe 8 or so. My fingers reflexively hit the “share” button, and then due to luck or divine intervention, “write post” instead of “share now.” In that unexpected pause, a small crack in my consciousness opened up and a larger reality came flooding in. I saw it all play out. I would share it, all my anger and fear and hopelessness channeled into the slightly harder than usual striking of those few buttons on my screen. Where it will never be seen. A few friends would see it. They’d feel the same. A fleeting moment of anger, and then back to life as usual, back to the barrage of Pride Month memes and cute selfies. What was I accomplishing though that? Nothing, I’m pretty sure. And I realized, I was operating on a logic that no longer applies, the logic that this was BREAKING NEWS! That it was a vile, shocking, unbelievable occurrence. And it is vile. Unbearably so. But we’ve passed the point where we have the luxury of being shocked by it, and certainly we have to believe it. It’s happened gradually (as history has taught us these things usually do.) Remember a time when a list of children who had died in the custody of the United States Government would be the first story on every news station in their country and ours? The front page of every newspaper? If they were the white children of American citizens, they would probably still be all those things today, it’s worth mentioning. But not that long ago, even these brown faces would command that much attention. I believe that.

I believed that.

But maybe there’s the rub, maybe that’s the lie that our two countries were built on. Because they’ve never been on the front page, have they? It took a national inquiry and the word “genocide” before thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women made major headlines – and even then the headlines were still mostly focused on the “is it really genocide” debate, because white Canadians’ discomfort with our own history is more newsworthy than the ongoing destruction of brown bodies. So here I am. Seeing with chilling clarity how every halfhearted share contributes to diluting the shock that we ought to be feeling, how every thought and prayer in all its ineffectual glory further normalizes the atrocities around us. As a result, the headlines and tweets and policies and speeches blur together until all I see is a loud red ball of rage and injustice. Few specifics, just a seething maelstrom of vaguely evil but unidentifiable chaos. Adrift in that malevolent storm, it’s hard to keep track of anything outside of the most immediate swelling wave, demanding to be precariously ridden on threat of being crushed under its unbearable weight. And I think that’s exactly how it’s meant to be. We’ve been deliberately steered into the storm by a carefully constructed illusion of fairness and justice disguising that chaos underneath. And as Petyr Baelish taught us, chaos is a ladder. I just don’t know who’s climbing, or where they’re climbing to. Which is exactly how they like it.

Part 2 – “Resistance is Feudal”

July 2nd

There are actions being organized at the US Embassy in response to the Concentration Camps at the Southern border, and I’m deeply compelled to participate and express my rage and hurt and fear through action.

But to maximize impact, these actions are taking place during ‘office hours,’ during which I also work. This is not about my job (which is valuable, decidedly anti-capitalist, and part of said Resistance in itself; and where I KNOW that my superiors would fully support me taking time off to go protest as I have done in the past and still may do,) this is about the fact that I had grand ambitions for how to participate, which I’ve quickly realized are unrealistic for me to accomplish, but (here’s where the Capitalist indoctrination comes in) because I can’t do those ambitious things without sacrifices to my well-being, income, and the tasks currently on my list at the office, I feel impotent and worthless. I have been utterly brainwashed into believing that my worth is inexorably tied to my ability to contribute, to be “productive.” So much so that I am crippled into inaction: feeling that if I’m not able to ‘fully’ participate, I might as well stay home and leave the protesting to the people who can do it “properly.”

And here’s the worst part: these dynamics are at play on an enormous scale, and affect other people even more than they affect me – people who would be fired if they didn’t show up to work because they felt that speaking out against children and other migrants forced to live in fucking cages was urgently needed, people who legitimately can not afford to lose the half-day of wages it would cost to participate because Capitalism prioritizes sales and customer service over the basic human dignity of people detained in hellish squalor on the other side of a continent.

So here we are, all economically and psychologically coerced into going about our lives while horrors occur and people are deprived and tortured and assaulted at the US-Mexico border, and on Reserves across this country, and in the small rooms of enormous Catholic Cathedrals, and on every street where women and trans folx and sex workers and queer folx and people of colour have the audacity to exist. And as often happens in conditions of extreme pressure, we’ve hardened. So much so that we actually believe this is the way things are meant to be.

Epilogue

I’ve been putting off this post because I wanted a hopeful insight to end it on. But I don’t know if there is one. I don’t have an inspirational call to action, I don’t have any advice (and frankly it would be pretty arrogant of me to offer any). All I have is a new awareness of the ways our society and culture have been built to prevent us from dismantling oppressive power structures. No, that’s not entirely true. I also have a reminder of all the times in history that those safeguards failed and people upended the structures anyway. It’s inevitable, I think. Imbalance cannot be sustained. The only question is how much damage will occur in the process, and how much of it will be reversible. And to that problem I really have no solutions. Sorry. Maybe try sharing this on Facebook.

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