The Box , a play directed by Michael John Garcés and written by Sarah Shourd.
A white supremacist with a swastika tattooed above his left eye addresses the audience: “People without hope are fucking dangerous.”
One of six characters in The Box, a play that debuted at Z Space theater in San Francisco in July, Jake Juchau (played by Clive Worsley) presents one image of life in long-term solitary confinement. The play was written by Sarah Shourd, an American journalist who spent 410 days in solitary in Iran after being accused of espionage, and then returned to the U.S. and began conducting research about the domestic uses of solitary confinement.
“Years of research went into this play,” Shourd notes in the playbill. “I traveled to visit prisoners in solitary confinement in 13 facilities across the country.” Shourd also explains that the six prisoners in her play are fictional combinations of the real life stories she gathered. “The characters in The Box won’t allow us to sit comfortably in our own skins,” Shourd writes. “They force us to ask questions: Why are we torturing people in lieu of rehabilitation? What are we going to do about the violence plaguing our society? How does change happen? How do we connect our own suffering to something larger?”
I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Here’s a quote from my friend Keryl McCord’s Facebook post that explains why:
So tonight I’m calling bullshit on progressives who still think that voting for, well, you know, Voldemort, is okay for progressives because it isn’t. You may want the system to be destroyed but the dogs of war will be unleashed on black and brown people, on Muslims, gays, and women. And if knowing that you still think that’s an option then you are not progressive, nor an ally. You’re just another foot on the neck of the people you supposedly support.
Let me be clear that it isn’t just Voldemort straight up: a vote for the Green or Libertarian candidate is also a vote for Trump, because it does nothing to close the gap between Trump and Clinton. I’m voting for Hillary because voting for Jill Stein, or any other third-party candidate whose views are closer to my own, would help elect Trump. That would be a disaster for the nation as a whole, and most particularly for the groups Keryl listed, those Trump has called out by name.
I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, and trying to wrap my mind around the political viewpoint that prizes personal ideological purity over disastrous consequences for the vulnerable. I supported Bernie. The Bernie-supporters who say they are voting for Stein or Johnson or even Trump inevitably marshal the same arguments: I have to vote my conscience, I can’t support the lesser or two evils, the system is corrupt, Bernie was cheated, and I can’t stomach being part of it.
It reminds me of a Talmudic inquiry. A question is posed: is it better to give one dollar to charity with a full heart, or ten grudgingly? The self-regarding obsession with purity that flavors so much of contemporary politics has to think hard before answering “One dollar with a full heart.” But really, there’s only one answer. Charity exists to benefit those in need. Ten dollars gives ten times more relief. How you feel about it is your problem. At bottom, it’s a simple act of empathy, valuing others’ interests—especially those who would suffer the consequences of a wrong decision on your part—as much as or more than your own.
Sometimes, words and more words are not only not enough, they are trouble. They are the trouble. Sometimes, when atrocities slash our eyes open, even if only because the dead was people like us, talking new policies in response to the gash of violence is wrong. It channels energies down the drain of no change. When denial has gripped most of society for generations, every word that proceeds from its mouth, every policy proposed, changes the subject, like an addict trying to talk about who does the dishes when his partner wants at last to tell some truth.
What is the sound of the scream, a keening flooding the flatlands with a fury that sends people to higher ground, to moral ground, from which they can see some truth?
A sound like that to amplify the facts of unrelenting murder of black people by police sworn to protect them. A sound to resound above the nightly news of citizens slaughtered by any person equipped with a deviated mind and an assault rifle from the local hardware, or a semi-truck and speed. A sound at once deep and immense enough to answer the murder of police, the most visible symbol of the state – against whom assault is assault on the purpose for which a state exists. What sound?
August 9th will mark the 71st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nakasaki. Activists and concerned citizens will stand with survivors of nuclear weapons and all those harmed by nuclear technology by gathering at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, in conjunction with Chain Reaction: a global action for nuclear disarmament, a nonviolent global movement encouraging nuclear disarmament actions by governments and the United Nations.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a branch of the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Although managed by the University of California, the lab is under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and has outgrown its status as branch laboratory to become a national resource in nuclear weapons development.
The participants in the Livermore event, called Disarm Now: We Stand with Nuclear Survivors for Global Justice, are scheduled to meet on August 9th at the Livermore lab and demand that the lab cease developing new nuclear weapons for the U.S. arsenal and instead divert funds from their nuclear weapons budget (which makes up 86% of their total funding).
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.
Do not be daunted
by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
- Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)
For the past few years, I have ended my classes at UCLA with a reflection with my students about this excerpt from a poem by Rabbi Tarfon and its significance for them. Many of us who work for social justice often work on organizing campaigns with short timelines, with little resources, and moving on all pistons at a grueling 24-7 pace. This extreme pace can consume the important things in life that contribute to a person’s well-being. It’s a kind of martyr’s code that measures a person’s commitment to justice by their willingness to sacrifice personal time, health, and relationships.
We mourn all the victims of violence, including the large volume of violence against people that goes unreported and underreported, including poor people and people of color, but also we mourn for the very few police officers who have been hurt or killed by those outraged at the way police have been harassing or murdering members of their community, their people, their race, etc. EVERY HUMAN LIFE IS PRECIOUS. None of the violence is ok. Not black on black violence, not white on black violence or black on white violence, not police violence, not acts of violent retribution. A hard message to get across in a society that responded to the horrendous killing of 3,000 plus Americans on 9/11 by engaging in assaults (both military and economic) on Afghanistan and Iraq that caused the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet violence continues to produce more violence. So the violence we delivered in the Middle East engendered ISIS/ISIL, and so it goes throughout history, and today in our own country. But for us in the religious world, the ongoing violence normally ignored by the media and genuinely not known or understood by most Americans is a spiritual, religious, and ethical emergency that deserves the attention of all people in every country of the world.
With her bright blue scales, yellow tail, and sleek build, Dory is one good-looking fish, and Finding Dory, Pixar’s latest moneymaker, serves as a 105-minute animated broadcast of constant cuteness about her, a type of Indo-Pacific surgeonfish that is called a blue tang. It may seem harmless enough, but unfortunately Finding Dory has the potential to cause environmental destruction, all because a large swath of consumers in the United States are often incapable of seeing something they like on screen without wanting to possess it. Some marine biologists warn that if people flock to pet stores after seeing Finding Dory to buy blue tangs it could add significant strain to already over-taxed coral reef ecosystems and could seriously harm the blue tang as a species.
Scientists and researchers have precedent for being worried. After the 2003 release of Finding Nemo,clownfish flew off the shelves at pet stores worldwide, despite the fact that the movie is specifically about why fish belong in the ocean and not a tiny aquarium in a child’s bedroom. The movie’s moral stance on keeping fish as pets cannot be mistaken or overlooked. The movie is made for children and it doesn’t deal in subtleties, yet the clownfish was all the rage after its release. In research published by National Geographic, Andrew Rhyne, an assistant professor of marine biology at Rodger Williams University, estimates clownfish sales went up thirty to forty percent after Finding Nemo came out. The spike in clownfish popularity led to the organization Saving Nemo, which works to keep clownfish in the wild and out of fish tanks.
Donald Trump is revealing inconvenient truths about bullying and American culture.
Adult bullies shape bullying by kids. Political leaders and major national institutions encourage bullying values. Despite the anti-bullying programs in schools, and the controversy about his own bullying, Trump’s success shows how deeply bullying influences kids and resonates among major sectors of the general adult public.
According to a major 2016 survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), teachers across the U.S. are reporting an alarming rise in bullying by school children against Latinos, Blacks, Muslims and other groups targeted by Donald Trump. Teachers say the bullies “seem emboldened” by Trump to taunt and insult while the bullied kids are terrified that they will be walled off, deported, or even killed.
The SPLC study did interviews with 2000 teachers. They received 1000 comments reporting heightened incidents of bullying explicitly in response to Trump’s rhetoric.
In New Hampshire, one high school teacher wrote that “A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with. They also think that all Muslims … want to kill us.”
A Wisconsin middle school teacher wrote that “At the all-white school where I teach, ‘dirty Mexican’ has become a common insult … Before election season it was never heard.”
A Michigan junior high teacher reported at a school assembly on bullying: “I had students tell me it [insults, name-calling, trash talk] isn’t bullying, they’re just ‘telling it like it is.’”
My thought experiment turned on abolishing the police as they now exist and replacing them with something that would not have the mission James Baldwin characterized thusly in 1966: “to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests.” I excerpted arguments that have come from key figures such as Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza, then asked this: “Reading the last few paragraphs, what was your response to the idea of drastically cutting – even abolishing – policing as it now exists?Did you think, “That’s crazy! Who will protect me?” If so, there is a colonizer in your head making you believe it is in your interests to perpetuate the system.”
The person who has this specific thought is on the other side of the line from the person who fears the police. Do I see myself as someone whose interests the police are here to protect, or someone who is in danger from the police? That seems like a pivotal and illuminating question in this moment, a powerful shot of self-knowledge and social knowledge. The balance of the essay advocated separating “from a system of white supremacy through word and deed.”
I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens—if you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand. [No one stands.]
You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand.
Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.
In less than a minute, Elliott demonstrates two profound and terrible truths. First, as she indicates, everyone knows that Black people as a group face far more hostility, danger, and discrimination than white people. And second, as a group, it is easy for those whose skins insulate them from this treatment to ignore the price others pay for their ability to move about safely and comfortably.
Elliott is best-known for a behavioral experiment called “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes.” In a classroom or other group setting, participants are divided by eye color. Those possessing blue eyes are treated as inferior—reprimanded, made to repeat tasks arbitrarily, made to sit in a corner for minuscule infractions, and so on. In a remarkably short time, the members of that group begin to doubt themselves, stumble over simple tasks, find themselves living into the experimenter’s diminished version of themselves.
This is the response of the defenseless. By and large, blue-eyed people haven’t had a lifetime of practice resisting oppression, ejecting the oppressor’s voice from their own hearts and minds. They just succumbed. But when this sort of treatment is meted out over time, the dignity, righteous anger, and resilience of the oppressed grow, and they fight back.
You and I aren’t in a room together, so we’ll have to settle for a thought experiment. To take part, read the next few paragraphs, then answer the questions I pose.
Right now, in the aftermath of a week of assassinations—first Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA; then Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, MN; then five police officers in Dallas—people are calling for drastic cuts or even dissolution of policing as it now exists. Mychal Denzel Smith’s eloquent April 2015 polemic in The Nation quotes James Baldwin fifty years ago expressing a so far enduring truth:
In 1966, James Baldwin wrote for The Nation: “…the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.” This remains as true today as it was in 1966, only now we have bought into the myth of police “serving and protecting” wholesale. What do you do with an institution whose core function is the control and elimination of black people specifically, and people of color and the poor more broadly?
You abolish it.
Smith points to the fact that the average police officer uses only about one-tenth of work time on the clearly criminal matters that fill the scripts of TV series, and the rest on enforcing elements of conduct that present no threat to public safety, but give police official reasons to detain anyone they wish. Eric Garner was killed for selling cigarettes, Sandra Bland for driving while Black, Oscar Grant for being in a BART station. Every day, people are detained, arrested, beaten, shot, or left for dead whose only crime is exercising the right to exist.
Real total government spending on the criminal justice system grew by 74 percent between 1993 and 2012, to $274 billion. Similarly, in 2012, real per capita criminal justice spending was $872 per year, up 43 percent over the same time period.
When it comes to policing, there’s a lot of talk about bad apples. But when the barrel gets this full of rot, you have to stop and ask whether it’s time to toss the whole thing out and switch to oranges.
In a July 8 interview with Essence, Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza advocates cutting police budgets by half:
…[I]t’s important to note as well that we are so enraged, in particular at the lack of serious action to defund police departments that continue to wreak havoc in our communities. We are enraged at the lack of action towards demilitarizing the police to make sure they are not carrying weapons of mass destruction to test and experiment in our communities. And we are outraged that we are not having serious conversations at the legislative level about slashing police budgets.
And certainly, we have to make sure our police forces do not have weapons of mass destruction with which they can terrorize our communities. I think if we’re able to focus in some of those areas, we’ll be in a much different place than we are right now.
So here’s the thought-experiment: Reading the last few paragraphs, what was your response to the idea of drastically cutting—even abolishing—policing as it now exists? Did you think, “That’s crazy! Who will protect me?” If so, there is a colonizer in your head making you believe it is in your interests to perpetuate the system Alicia Garza describes so clearly:
Why are we paying tax dollars to departments that continue to murder our people? I don’t want to pay for people to kill us, and I don’t think anybody in our communities want that. What’s also really important is what you just said, that’s so fantastic: there’s not enough people inside of these departments that are seeing what’s going on, speaking up and speaking out. And so, we’re at that point now, and we’ve been at that point for a while, where we have consistently said: ‘What side are you on?’ And if you’re quiet, knowing that there’s a culture of racism inside most police departments, and you’re not saying anything, you are on the wrong side of history.
Those who’ve historically benefited from this system at the expense of Black people and others targeted by the police have a simple choice right now. Separate yourself from a system of white supremacy through word and deed. Or maintain your loyalty to that system and the perks it provides, turning a blind eye to the costs it exacts. Then wait and see how well it protects you when the violence festering at every level of American society—from street-level policing to Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric—explodes.
Fania Davis, who knows what she is talking about, makes a powerful argument in Yes! Magazine for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an essential step, starting with Ferguson. We need all the truth we can get.