2009 was a difficult year for many fellow activists and friends of mine, especially in the San Francisco bay area. Sarah, Shane, and Josh remain detained in Iran: yesterday marked the fifth long month. Tristan is still still facing a very long recovery after being senselessly shot in the face while acting as a nonviolent witness in Palestine. There were more unprovoked arrests on groundless charges. A cancer diagnosis. A fatal accident at sea. A colleague’s betrayal of trust in becoming an informant.
These events are important for me to remember, but not because I want to give a laundry list of tragedy and wrongs. I want to remember the ways people responded, and how our communities came together. Websites and benefit shows put together in a matter of days, care schedules planned, vigils, creative fundraisers, phone calls and emails to check in on one another, reminders to take care of ourselves.
These activities may sound ordinary, the sorts of things that any community would do when faced with tragedy and turmoil. But these things matter because this is the kind of response we want to see for everyone. We want a world where mutual aid is taken for granted as the way things are done; we pool together our resources and help someone who needs it, no questions asked. Senseless events leave us feeling angry and helpless, but we find creative ways to channel our frustrations. Violence and violation does not ever have the last word.
This is activism.
I remember a small incident a few years ago when I was the one in need. I had an anxiety attack in the middle of a large, crowded street protest, and the people with me helped me get through the police and barricades and safely to a side street where I could rest, drink some water, take an herbal tincture. I was very apologetic, feeling guilty that I was keeping them from missing out on all the action of the demonstration.
My friend Y. quickly stopped me, letting me know I had no reason to apologize:
“If we can’t take care of each other, what the hell are we doing trying to change the world?”
Here’s to another year of changing the world.