Lifted Voices on Solidarity in a Time of Rebellion

Photo: Sarah-Ji

Amid the current crisis and what it has demanded of us, the Lifted Voices collective has not yet spoken publicly, with one voice, about the protests that have been unfolding around the country. As this rebellion took hold, we have watched as Black people have defended their lives and their communities, at great personal risk, and we have seen allies and accomplices acting in concert with that work. We have lent support on the ground and in the background, and will continue to do so. As a collective of mostly queer Black, Native, and Latinx people, the kind of solidarity that is essential in this moment is central to our work, but we are not trying to speak from a place of instruction. Working to overcome historical divides in one radical collective does not create a model for all poor and working class people in Black and brown communities that have been pitted against each other by police and capitalists for generations. 

We were heartsick to learn that Black people have experienced targeted, anti-Black violence this week at the hands of Latinx folks in Chicago, a city we love dearly, where most of us live. We are exceedingly grateful to brown organizers with groups like El Foro del Pueblo, in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, who have been leading the charge against anti-Blackness in their community, where Black folks were attacked recently by some Latinx people, some of whom have defended their actions as “community defense.”

We are saddened by this misuse of the concept of “community defense,” but grateful for the progress we have witnessed in the last 48 hours. We have been heartened to see brown people marching for Black lives, and explicitly against the anti-Blackness in their own communities. We have been excited to see non-Black Natives and other Indigenous folks who are creating and uplifting educational materials and artwork online to combat anti-Black attitudes and ideas. In Pilsen, hundreds of Black and brown people marched together for Black lives on Wednesday, in an event led by ChiResists. 

The tension between Black and brown communities is real, but so is the solidarity being built in the streets. We will do what we can to contribute to these efforts. We will also endeavor to protect and defend our Black members and co-strugglers. 

Our unwavering support for Black protesters in a state of rebellion is not a mere feeling. It is a personal and political commitment. We do not believe property destruction is violence, but we also do not believe that binaries of violence and nonviolence should dictate what is or is not morally acceptable. We believe in self defense and also recognize that, for Black people, acts of self defense often come at a great cost. This is true of individual acts of self defense, as well as acts of communal defense. We believe that Black people taking such risks must be supported.

Black people in the U.S. have died in large numbers after contracting COVID-19, due to structural inequalities that have led to high rates of “underlying conditions” in Black communities. Due to disproportionate rates of incarceration, many Black people have watched helplessly as their loved ones have become ill in prisons, jails and detention centers. Some have experienced the death of incarcerated loved ones, or have simply been left to agonize over the fate of imprisoned people who have no masks or means of physically distancing themselves. Many Black people are forced to travel long distances on crowded buses and trains to food pantries, or to access other resources, which are sometimes exhausted by the time they arrive. Disabled Black people are faced with the reality that, during the pandemic, they are being treated as even more disposable in an already frighteningly ableist society. Black people have experienced disproportionate “enforcement” of shelter in place guidelines, in addition to the disproportionate rates of police violence they were already faced with. Many Black people have been forced to leave their homes on a daily basis, during a pandemic, to perform essential jobs that entire communities depend on, while still experiencing harassment and violence from police. Black people have experienced the standard violence of anti-Blackness in the U.S. ramped up to the hilt during this pandemic, and the murder of George Floyd was the last straw for many Black people around the country who have their own horror stories of abuse, police violence and resource deprivation. What we are seeing is not an aberration. It is a tipping point. Black people have pursued every avenue of redress, including every form of idealized, nonviolent protest, and still live in a society where they are murdered by the state without cause, warning or consequence. 

These protests are happening because of police terror. The murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor reflect the overall character of policing in the United States, as do the police riots we are witnessing around the country. These actions are also consistent with Donald Trump’s fascist rhetoric. We must recognize the political alignment of Trump and racist law enforcement agencies in this dangerous moment and understand the current wave of police riots within their fascist context. 

We would like to remind spectators who are critiquing Black protesters in this moment that history is a progression of events, not a series of comparisons. Everything that has happened over the course of Black struggle has led to this moment. There are no past movements or movement leaders whose work managed to topple racism or end racist violence. There are people who have made strides by employing specific tactics, and plenty of other people who have deployed the same tactics without making any progress at all. Exceptionalizing the past yields no meaningful analysis of the present. We implore those who are critical of “violence” to ask themselves why they are prioritizing order over peace, and property over Black lives. Because those who are demanding an end to the protests are not asking for the restoration of peace. Black and Native people have never experienced peace in this country. Our peoples have been subject to the whims of white violence since the onset of colonialism, Native genocide and chattel slavery. This system has never offered Black people a peaceful existence, so we have to be honest about the fact that most officials in the U.S. are not extending anything meaningful to the protesters. They are simply pleading for the restoration of order. That order has beneficiaries, and the past has taught us that without transformative change, those dynamics will remain unaltered.

We support Black people, Black power and the right of Black people to defend their lives and futures. We will not allow respectability or binaries of good and bad protest to place any constraints on our solidarity. We know that we will see “peaceful protest” increasingly fetishized in the coming days, and history tells us that these “good protests” will be weaponized to attack Black people who are participating in active rebellion. We are asking all of our friends and co-strugglers to rage against that false dichotomy. You will be told that only “peaceful” protest is effective, but both history and the present tell us otherwise. Once lines are drawn between those who are viewed as nonviolent and those who are deemed “violent criminals,” the fate of those rebelling will be viewed as less consequential. People in the U.S. have been conditioned to stop caring about what happens to people once they are branded as “criminals.” The prison industrial complex offers irrefutable proof of this phenomenon. If we do not want history to repeat itself, we must fight this predictable, anti-Black cycle of invalidation and repression. Some of you are already fighting to dismantle these binaries. We are grateful to be in the struggle with you.

To our Black co-strugglers who are in the thick of struggle right now: Our work largely plays out in the background, but that means we have your backs. We are here and we will act in solidarity with you. We believe Black and brown solidarity is essential to our collective liberation and we call on people to recognize that antifascist solidarity, which includes opposition to police violence, is essential to our collective survival. It is our position that we surrender nothing and no one to the fascists.

Please stay as strong and safe as you can in these times. We will see you online and in the streets. 

In solidarity,

Lifted Voices

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