One Baltimore #8, Freedom

6/24/19

I promise we’ll get to Baltimore before the column ends, but I want to start this week with an announcement, one that made me delay posting this by a day (nooo, my on-time streak ;_;) so that I could check in about some time off work first. Now that that’s a go… 

My friend Opal and I made a big decision last night. Next week, we’re going to drive to Clint, Texas, where the U.S. government is warehousing hundreds of infants and children who have been separated from their families in direly unhealthy conditions, (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/a-firsthand-report-of-inhumane-conditions-at-a-migrant-childrens-detention-facility), and then on to El Paso, where refugees are being caged by the thousands in the desert (https://www.thecut.com/2019/03/migrants-being-held-under-bridge-in-el-paso-what-we-know.html). 

We’re both so deeply furious and sad, and we can’t ignore it any longer. I’ve always asked myself how average Germans who didn’t love Hitler could see the Jews disappearing and the concentration camps going up and not even go take a look at them. I don’t see any meaningful difference between those old camps and these new ones in terms of the dehumanization of vulnerable people for political gain, the criminalization of simple existence, the crowding and mistreatment, the separation of families for no reason but cruelty, and the potential endgame. 

So now I can understand something of the answer to my question, based on my own actions. They were just so busy, there was so much going on, so much impossible news, so many different groups being targeted, they didn’t know what to do, they were pretty sure they couldn’t do anything at all, they were scared. Easier to hurt about it but not try to fix it, to just keep going roughly as normal for as long as you can, to let your mindscape get bleaker and bleaker.

For the record, I’m not saying you don’t care if you don’t take this particular action, which granted is kinda spur of the moment and random on our parts (though I assure you, we are working out the necessary logistics and safety is at the forefront of our minds). For me, I’m just at a point where I have to go look it in the face, and I have enough freedom right now that I can do so. And if not now, when? I can’t think of a more appropriate place to spend the Fourth of July in 2019 than the southern border.

What we’ll do once we get there is less clear. I’m thinking of it mainly as a fact-finding mission. We’ll be bringing relief supplies, seeing if we can get them to anyone, meeting people on the ground, and documenting what we find. Maybe it’ll be useful, maybe it’ll just be a weird roadrip. Please let us know if you’re interested in coming along in a caravan, if you know people out that way, or if you otherwise want to support this effort.

Our journey will come a week before a much larger organizing effort that I’m seeing from Lights for Liberty for Friday, July 12th. They’ll be out around the country, including in DC (https://www.facebook.com/events/660338147748249/) and Frederick (https://www.facebook.com/events/2595640143803515/). They’ll be in El Paso too, but I can’t go then, of course, as that’s the start of Keith Davis Jr.’s trial (https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/), which I’ve committed to attending about as hard as I’ve ever committed to anything. It’s cool though, me and Opal are, like, the advance scouting party. 

What about here at home though? Baltimore was one of ten cities on the list for the ICE raids originally planned for this weekend. While we and many others around the country got a temporary reprieve, they did in fact hit DC over the weekend, as per Sanctuary DMV (https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/article/21074694/ice-activity-reported-across-northwest-dc-saturday-resulting-in-at-least-two-arrests). 

Even as ICE atrocities are compelling me to travel halfway across the country, I realize that I know far less than I should about the status and safety of our local immigrant communities. Something to remedy, and hopefully to speak to more in a future column. For now, I can at least share that CASA is holding a Bystander Training this Tuesday night near Patterson Park designed to help people resist such raids (https://www.facebook.com/events/456074175191476/). 

When it comes to this trip, in addition to the horrifying news stories, the personal cultural-historical angst, and being personally emboldened by Opal’s passion on the topic, part of what inspired me, as it so often does, was the most recent West Wednesday. It was the 307th week in a row for the protest/vigil, organized by Tawanda Jones to call attention to the murder of her brother, Tyrone West, at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department, as well as to other cases of police brutality locally and across the country.

This past Wednesday was Juneteenth, the celebration of the day when African-Americans enslaved in Texas finally found out they were free, two years after the rest of the country. We met up at a park in west Baltimore, chatted, ate for free thanks to the generosity of Shorty’s Bootleg Barbecue. There was a special charge in the air, a larger group out than normal, feeling maybe a little more ready and eager to connect.

For hours, members of the crowd took the mic, and it was riveting all the way through. People of all ages, genders, and shades spoke powerfully about injustices, about physically unlearning privilege, about awesome local programs like Roots of Scouting and the Free People’s Co-Op, about our environment. Rain started to lash down, but there were pop-up tents for the audience and umbrellas for the speakers, and we didn’t stop. A woman named Angel sang a beautiful, original song over an instrumental track, crooning out the refrain, “My Black life matters,” with power and grace through the storm.

I jumped up not long after that. Just as I was getting into my spiel about how and why we need to re-take control of BPD from the state this coming year, someone pointed out that a BPD officer had pulled into the alley alongside us and was sitting there with his window down. Perfect, I cried, exactly who I wanted to hear it! Special thanks to Opal for capturing a solid two minutes of me yelling my speech at a cop (https://www.facebook.com/drew.coyne/videos/688764464888153/). It was damn cathartic. 

After all the talking was done, we gathered up and watched videos projected against the wall of a garage. One that particularly struck me was a music video by Prime Meridian about Tyrone West – if you don’t know his truly egregious story, they cover it thoroughly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHM1AJqFduQ I’ve mentioned Tawanda many times, because I think her leadership is so important and transformative, but I’ve yet to really focus on her brother. Another thing to remedy soon.

Following the videos, we watched Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, The 13th. It starts with Juneteenth and then examines the consequences of a loophole in the abolishment of slavery – the thirteenth amendment allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime – and how our systems of oppression have successfully morphed in response rather than dying out.

Meticulously researched and full of fascinating interviews with historians, civil rights leaders, and others, The 13th compellingly and chillingly lays out how America hyper-policed and criminalized African-Americans post-slavery as a way to suppress their power and continue to extort free labor. From Jim Crow to the war on drugs, it takes us to the present day, examining the terrifying ways that “tough on crime” politicians of recent decades have exploded the prison population, setting the framework for the for-profit prison corporations and others who thrive off of this disgusting industry, and who then buy access to our politicians and shape laws that send yet more people into their mills.

I’m barely touching on the content of this stellar film. It’s a hard watch, for obvious reasons, but it will absorb you, that’s for sure. Seriously, check it out (it’s on Netflix).

At the end, The 13th makes the connection between our incarceration-nation and the mass detention of migrants. People are profiting off of building and operating these camps, both politically and economically, just as they have with the prisons. This is all one system, which grips us ever tighter while committing worsening atrocities and dragging us deeper into fascism. We confront it now or confront it never.

I’ve never been to Texas. What do I know about it? It’s big and hot. It’s at the epicenter of the humanitarian refugee crisis we’re facing and of our government’s sadistic response. It might well still be part of Mexico today if its white settler population hadn’t been so adamant about their “right” to keep slaves that they fomented a bloody revolution. And of course, it was the last place to grudgingly tell its enslaved population about abolition. Not super promising.

I’m gonna shave. I’m not too proud to do that (for anyone reading who doesn’t know what I look like, I’m thick and curvy and so is my beard, a combination that can cause consternation among people concerned with gender classification). Someone asked me recently how long I was gonna grow out the beard, and I said “until canvassing season starts, I guess,” but looks like the expiration date on these locks is coming earlier. Someday maybe I’ll be able to find out what happens if I just let it go indefinitely, someday maybe I truly won’t care, but for now you can read something about my relative freedom by the state of my face, and, bummer though it may be, I’m not privileging that freedom over my ability to walk out of this situation intact. 

#AbolishICE

#NoOneIsIllegal

#JusticeForTyroneWest

#FreeKeithDavisJr

#OneBaltimore

Cultural events of the week: 

Who wants to see Paris is Burning with me on Tuesday night at the Senator Theatre (don’t worry, it starts after the Bystander Training, you can do both)?? One show only! I’ll crib from the event description, cuz I can’t say it better — “Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag ball scene”. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/2173112416314293/

And I know I’ve mentioned this one before, buuuuut the Charm City Kitty Club’s next show, “Claws Up, Walls Down!” is nearly upon us!! Two nights only, Friday 6/28 & Saturday 6/29! We got burlesque, poetry, drag, puppets, comedy, music, we got all your hot local art. Baltimore’s premiere queer cabaret brings it every time, but I’m especially excited about this lineup. It’s also a pretty powerful feeling to be doing a show about bringing down walls, and then to immediately be going to the U.S./Mexico border afterwards. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/268322887416917/

Green event of the week: 

Sunrise Movement Baltimore, which is dedicated to fighting climate change, is holding a watch party for the first Democratic primary debate this Wednesday evening at HomeSlyce Pizza in southeast! #changethedebate

https://www.facebook.com/events/2317974578521272/

Song of the week: “We Rise Again” by Gogol Bordello

For the love of you / For the love of me / For the love of everyone / Who’s yet to be free / Borders are scars on the face of the planet / So heal away my alchemy man / Even atheist holds up the candle / We rise again / We rise again

Photo: West Wednesday #307, before the storm.

2 thoughts on “One Baltimore #8, Freedom

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