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December 9, 2020

Marching and Movement

We’re coming up fast to my annual winter internet holiday (away from the internet), which I am looking forward to (the number of books I can read while not scrolling Instagram is pretty epic), and I think it’s probably time for it. While I’ve been doing well and feeling fairly calm, I’m also in a weird post-publication creative freeze where I’m itching to start something new but I don’t know what it is yet (and you can’t rush these things) and I’m lacking the focus for blogging right now too, although I keep writing rather epic Instagram posts that turn out to be blog posts in disguise. I am looking forward to my holiday to give the spinning wheels in my brain a rest, to do some deeper thinking, and for a reset that hopefully will bring me #BackToTheBlog in the New Year.

But in the meantime, I want to write a bit about politics. About how while I have always been political in the choices I make, the stories I tell, and how I live my life, actual politics makes me squeamish. I think I hate being pinned down, is part of it, and also being told what to do. I hate speaking in chorus, can’t stand crowds, and/or suffering ninnies politely, and maybe I am deeply allergic to earnestness. All of this an aversion that four years ago, I decided to work to overcome, because staying on the sidelines was now out of the question with a burgeoning fascist regime in the country just south of us, a movement whose reach went well beyond those borders. How naive I’d been to imagine that politics (in the electoral sense) didn’t exactly apply to me. I was going to take to the streets. We were going to fight.

And we did. Kind of. There were placards on the porch and we marched, both in sunny weather and in snowstorms. We rallied for refugees, and for the climate, and over and over again in support of public education. I went to meetings and organized petitions and baked cakes and muffins and I’m not saying I did anything extraordinary or even was terribly involved (I like community in theory, but people, ugh), but I showed up. I stood up. It matters that people do so, even if there aren’t a ton of them. Even if nothing changes, standing up means one more person who did.

But the pandemic changed things for me. Though I was already tired—when everything fell apart in March, we’d been through a winter of labour unrest in our public schools. Before schools closed altogether, there had been rotating strikes for two months, and the ways things were going, they would only have escalated. And of course, we stood up with our teachers, for education. We showed up. So many days standing out in the cold, but this is no real hardship. Public schools matter more, and I have a very warm coat. But it was dispiriting, is what I mean. I really missed the era when I just sent my children to school and never thought of it again. Being a parent of school aged children in Ontario since 2017 has been stressful and heartbreaking, the constant erosion of all those things we care about, denigration of people and institutions who are the bedrock of our communities.

At some point, I had to stop going to meetings. Any political action I undertook would leave me to collapse into an emotional wreck three days later. I was way too emotionally invested, to the point of being unable to function sometimes. How do other people do this?

And then the pandemic hit, and I was just fucking done. I did spend about two weeks wracked by incredible anxiety, convinced we were all going to die (this was my Crocodile Dundee phase), but even after I got over that an stopped having heart palpitations and nightmares, my appetite for politics was even smaller than it originally had been. I guess at a moment when so much was at stake, doing anything other than having people work together just seemed counter-intuitive and just irritating. The pandemic, to me, underlined how perilous was absolutely everything, like absolute threads we were all just hanging by, and everything political just seemed made up and phony. Like, nobody really knows anything, and we just made all this shit up to feel important, to provide ourselves with purpose, but it’s nonsense, all of it nonsense. I mean, of course, there is meaning in life and in the universe, but almost everything else is just a whole lot of posturing.

I didn’t want to march anymore. It was a performance. There was no end-game. I was tired and bored, and also proximity to others had become potentially fatal. Which was the reason I gave for not marching with Black Lives Matter in June, which was a month that shifted my perspective in terms of police funding (ie defund it) and kept anti-Black racism in the forefront of my mind. A moment in which the radical point of view managed to touch if not infiltrate the mainstream, and that’s amazing. Shifting the dial, and that’s something, not nothing. But still—I was thinking of the Black woman in Toronto who was killed in an encounter with the police during the same time as people were rising up in the wake of yet another police killing in the US. And my discomfort with the way this woman’s death was meant to be a symbol of everything rather than the specific thing that it was, a thing I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t feel certain enough to go marching for that. Plus there was a pandemic on, and (also) I didn’t want to march in the first place.

I am reading the book Me and White Supremacy now, and to be honest, not finding it particularly revelatory. I am also reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, and it’s blowing my mind. I think the former book would be more useful for the type of person who hasn’t been following Black women on Twitter since 2014 (except she’d never buy it) because everything Me and White Supremacy is telling me, I already learned from them, women like Mikki Kendall and Tressie McMillan Cottom, and so many others. Caste, however, is making my head explode, bringing the world into shocking, bewildering clarity and I know that I am only deepening the furrows on my brow as I read it, because my expression is perpetually, “What the actual fuck???”

But one interesting thing that Me and White Supremacy has me questioning is why I didn’t go marching in June, because the pandemic, I think, was definitely mainly an excuse. (That I did absolutely nothing else during this period with large groups of people is less important than it seems.) It has me wondering why I was willing to attend climate marches (two, I think) though I would not consider myself a climate radical by any means, but would be averse to marching for racial justice jus because I didn’t agree with absolutely every single item on the agenda. I mean, I agree with racial justice, obviously. But recall my previous point about the problem of the specific case standing in for the entire problem and my discomfort with that. Why do my scruples pop up sometimes and not others?

Part of the problem is the typical white person’s problem of seeing racism as a problem that does not concern one if one happens to be white. Fearing tension too—am I welcome at this party? Maybe also not knowing enough about what was going on. (Something else I’ve become tired of re activism and social media is the idea that everybody has to be aware of every single thing that’s occurring in every single place. Like, Instagram powerpoints: Why You Should Be Paying Attention to What’s Happening in the Back Shed of a Blue House on a Road in Dayton, Ohio.)

But where are we marching to, exactly? And is this what’s going to get us there? And let me tell me, my appetite for marching diminished even further once it became the primary pastime of right-wing nut-jobs. I honestly think there is nothing I would march for in December 2020, because marching has officially jumped the shark. We’ve brought the broomsticks in from the porch, finally, and the streets belong to the anti-maskers now. I think we have to find another way, and thinking about what this is is my new challenge.

Or am I just making excuses for doing nothing at all?

Because, of course, I have a lot invested in the status quo. And I don’t say this entirely glibly. I’m not a believer in the BURN IT ALL DOWN school of politics, because what this year has taught me is that it’s all just a tinderbox, and a house of cards anyway, no matter your leanings. This year has taught me a lot about the London Blitz, which is that it was probably a shitshow, but we just forgot about that part, and everybody is rational and stoic in the historical record. But that’s not how people work. People are messy, and muddly and it’s always bananas, and every good thing that ever happens maybe only happens by the skin of our teeth. And what if progress is actually that?

2 thoughts on “Marching and Movement”

  1. “People are messy, and muddly and it’s always bananas, and every good thing that ever happens maybe only happens by the skin of our teeth. And what if progress is actually that?”

    Thank you, so very much, for this. I needed to read it today.

  2. Jilanna says:

    I was coming here to quote the very same lines as Karen has above. Thank you for articulating something I’ve learned and thought about this year but couldn’t articulate.

    BIG HUG.

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