Actual History: Refusal 9

 

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.

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I’m going to tell this story backward.

In 1804, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines named Haiti and declared it independent. In 1803, he had led the formerly enslaved people who defeated the army of French colonizers at the Battle of Vertieres. They’d been fighting since 1791, but they’d been preparing to fight for much longer than that.

The people who would become Haitians used previous slave rebellions and the French Revolution as spurs and models. They had forged a shared language out of a combination of French and their or their parents’ home languages. Many of them shared Vodun religious practices.

The mountains in the years before 1791 were full of people, people who had escaped slavery and lived there and people who came there to meet them. “The slaves were stirring and holding mass meetings in the forest at night,” one of my sources read.

Marronage is the name for what the people who ran to the forest and made their lives there did, and what enslaved Black people throughout the Americas and the Caribbean did, before they killed their oppressors and gained their freedom. They made places to live, speak, think, eat, and plan. Of people similarly positioned in Louisiana, Ashon Crawley wrote, “The ciprieré communities secreted from local plantations, maintaining a relationship to spaces from which they escaped, but established new patterns of behavior and aesthetic interventions for protection and peace. Setting traps, navigating the swamps, having sex, singing, raising children, eating – all these were aesthetic practices that always and likewise had to be forms of preparation. Maroons needed to be ready at a moment’s notice for encounter with the political world of the exterior that would bear down on them and produce violence against them. Each practice, therefore, was a likewise preparation for the possibility of the threat of violation; each practice, thus, highlights the ways in which interventions always likewise have an aesthetic quality and theoretical underpinning.”

In other words, the story of marronage is the story of learning to live instead: rejecting, refusing, the ways the people profiting from your suffering told you were the only ways. Living, instead, or otherwise, in ways that make you want to live, and make you and your people more likely to live, and prepare you all to evade or to fight back against your death.

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The Haitian Revolution is famous. My sources cite rough counts for how many former slaves and how many colonizers died, but I haven’t been able to find a source that will tell me how many people enslaved in what’s now Haiti died–through murder, through abuse, through neglect, at the hands of the white people who enslaved them–before the Revolution. I’m guessing that would change the count considerably. When you’re reading history, I urge you to consider and seek out the numbers around the numbers, and the information around the information, remembering that every historian chooses when and where to start and stop the story.

The first Ashon Crawley essay I cited above is an old one, and even the second one is two years old. I recommend attending to his recent work.

Actual History: Refusal 8

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.

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Women in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri fought the Women’s War, Ogu Umunwanyi or Ekong Eban, in the fall and winter of 1929.  British colonizers had appointed “warrant chiefs” in place of the chiefs that the Igbo people elected, and when these British-appointed chiefs and the colonizers who appointed them threatened to tax the women who sold food to the growing cities, and sacriligeously invaded their privacy with the excuse of calculating this tax, Andoni, Ibibio, Igbo, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo women began to plan and discuss resistance.

Beginning in November of 1929, the women blockaded roads, knocked down telegraph poles and severed wires. They attacked the Essene “Native Court” and released people imprisoned there, burned down other Native Court buildings and attacked European-owned stores and banks. They chanted threatening songs and organized ceremonial mockery (“sitting on him”) of the warrant chiefs, wearing palm leaves as a symbol of the summons to action and a mark of protection. Between 15,000 and 25,o00 women resisted in this way, destroying property and attacking pride and status but killing  no one.

Colonial authorities, on the other hand, killed many of the women in fear and retaliation. They did ultimately abandon the plans for a tax, curb the power of the warrant chiefs, and acknowledge the necessity for women’s involvement in governing, but as we know, they did not leave.

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As always, I’ve attempted to source this well, but if anyone has any corrections I will take them.

In learning this story I was particularly struck by the destruction of relevant property (businesses owned by colonizers, buildings that represented and inflicted the unjust law), the release of prisoners, the severing of one form of communication and the use of another, and the work done by mockery and shame.

If you want to honor the women of the Women’s War, you could start by learning about the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and their fight against Shell Oil, and get a North American you know who’s thinking about “volunteering in Africa” to do the same. (I’m looking for additional things you could do, but wanted to post this.)

 

 

Actual History: Refusal 7

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.

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The people of Asubpeeschoseewagong / Grassy Narrows, in Ontario, Canada, successfully halted clear-cutting of their forests for ten years. Judy DaSilva, who participated in the blockade, wrote about it in May 2016:

“By 2002, our people were frustrated with the “dead end” complaint processes over the destruction of our forest by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Abitibi [Consolidated, the logging company, later Abitibi Bowater]. We had no protectors except ourselves.

So on that cold winter day, one of our community members said, ‘We need to do something.’ We set up a campfire on the side of the logging road about three kilometers from the reserve. By night, everyone had left except this one man. We went back to the comfort of our warm homes while he stayed. That night, even though he was scared, he stopped a logging truck from entering the forest. The next morning students showed up in full force, bringing the energy up at the blockade.

When our whole community had heard about this man’s actions, many community members, and supportive Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) began to help…”

Here is the logging company’s letter committing to withdrawal from the forest in 2008. But in 2012, ten years after its beginning, the blockade was still necessary and people were still maintaining it. They maintained it in the face of a Supreme Court decision against them in 2014. Several of the sources I found referred to it as “the longest-running blockade in Canadian history.” (Some more background, assembled by “solidarity activists working with Grassy Narrows organizers”, is here.)

The forestry management plan for the region threatens it again with logging, and the people, land and water of Asubpeeschoseewagong / Grassy Narrows continue to suffer from mercury poisoning caused by the logging and paper industries. They are attempting to fight it using the courts as well, and seeking action from Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Wynn; especially if you are Canadian, you can write to them and seek it too.

PLEASE NOTE: If anyone knows anything that contradicts the information here, please tell me and I will correct it! At the risk of sounding sanctimonious (“too late, Kate,” I hear you saying), that’s how we build knowledge together.

Interdependence Days return in February!

Interdependence Days are starting up again in February! Let’s meet our neighbors, share food and stories, learn from each other, and learn to work together on what’s important to us.
 
We’ll do our standard opening and closing rituals, story circle, and sharing of opportunities for community participation. We also have variable workshops scheduled through mid-March (which is, frankly, amazing)–look ahead and see if any of these particularly appeal to you! We meet 6-8pm on Tuesday nights.
 
2/7: Sharing our strengths: what are we good at?
2/14: Naxalone/opioid overdose prevention training
2/21: Mapping our networks of help and shelter
2/28: Imagining food justice & food systems that work
3/7: Conceivable Future: climate change, kids & fighting for the future
3/14: Introduction to grant writing
 
As always, these are free and open to the public. They’re somewhat Broadway-centric, but anyone can come on any day; you can also arrive and leave at any time during a gathering, if you want or need to. You can bring some food to share if you want to and can, but you don’t have to.
 
Kate, Emily, Aria, Addie, MacKenzie and Ada are the Interdependence Days planners right now. Write to us at interdependencedays@gmail.com if you have questions, or ask them here!

Actual History: Refusal 6

Last night, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a work stoppage–no JFK Airport dropoffs or pickups between 6 and 7pm–in solidarity with people being detained via the president’s “Muslim Ban”. Here is their full statement.

This is how we need to act, and how we can act, together.

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If you have money to share, you can share it with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, or with the National Lawyers Guild, who provide legal observation and monitoring to protect protestors’ rights.

If you live in Rhode Island and have time to spare, come to the State House today.

Here’s a list of protests in other places in the US.

Alternate History: Refusal 5

The next day, truckers spoke over the radios, recalculating their routes, passing the word along. Air traffic controllers refused to let planes land. No one who drove a truck or flew a plane or ran container shipping in the Gulf would bring any concrete or rebar or wire or cable or steel or cement or construction equipment or surveillance electronics to anywhere at all in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas.

Companies in these states that made or used or sold these materials and tools made haste to sell their products, at a discount, to people and companies building anywhere else–other states, overseas. Ann Arbor and Vladivostok both took big deliveries of cranes, for some reason, and a lot of materials went to Haiti and Georgia.

People who worked large-scale construction in those states knew that the government would probably bring in prison labor anyway, but just in case, they went to visit relatives in other states if they could, or picked up work far from home. The unions passed the word along.

On the border, men with guns and men in suits stood with no power to move or build anything more than a handful of dirt.

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Rhode Islanders can see if Dorcas International needs volunteer help. Anyone can call their city’s or town’s mayor and ask what they are going to do to protect and accommodate their immigrant and refugee neighbors.

This refusal is for everyone who was murdered trying to make the crossing, and for my students, who are still alive.

 

Some Alternate Histories and an interview in Reckoning

Michael DeLuca interviewed me about the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and published three of the alternate histories in Reckoning (the other writing in there is great too).

“Everything I see, both firsthand and reported–not just predictions for the future, but observations about the present–says that we are in the middle of a hard time that’s going to get harder, more painful and full of loss and grief, falling unevenly according to who’s already suffering or exploited. I don’t feel better about anything, ever, anymore, except in little tiny patches,” I said.

“But those tiny patches matter to me and I want to nourish them,” I said.

I also said, and 100% meant, that I would LOVE it if other people want to do a version of the booth in their own city (this has always been true) and if you want to, I will help you. Just saying.

Providence City Council Meeting TONIGHT: No Burrillville Power Plant

UPDATE: The committee voted to send the resolution described below to the full city council for a vote (this is good). Watch this space to learn when that vote is–we’ll want to show up for that, too.

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The Providence City Council Special Committee on Municipal Operations and Oversight meets tonight to vote on a resolution opposing Invenergy’s fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville, and investigating Johnston’s sale of water (which comes from the same source as Providence’s water) to the plant.

25 Dorrance St (3rd floor), Providence

TONIGHT (January 25th) at 6pm

If you can, please come and support the resolution against the power plant. If you can’t, but one of the people below is your councilperson, please call them and urge them to pass this resolution, which could help keep Rhode Island healthier–its human and nonhuman people, its ecosystems–and lower its contributions to climate change.

Jo-Ann Ryan, Ward 5
401-595-8604, 401-464-2046

Kevin Jackson, Ward 3
401-286-4223

Luis Aponte, Ward 10
Council President
401-781-6861

Sabina Matos, Ward 15
Council President Pro Temp
401-383-3814

Nicholas Narducci Jr, Ward 4
401-497-1430

A good thing to say: “I’m NAME, I live at ADDRESS in WARD #. I’m calling to ask Councilman/Councilwoman NAME to vote in favor of Councilman Yurdin’s resolution against the Invenergy Power Plant. The deforestation and pollution from the plant will affect all Rhode Islanders in the long term, and Burrillville itself has said they don’t want the plant. Please tell the Councilman/Councilwoman that I’d like them to support Councilman Yurdin’s resolution.”

If you can’t do phone calls, you can email your councilperson by ward number–like, “ward10 AT providenceri DOT com.”

Alternate History: Refusal 4

The next day, the students came into the well-appointed classroom, with its big windows and its new desks and its variously computerized boards and screens, and I sat there and said nothing.

I refused to teach them and my colleagues refused to teach them and the people who worked in the offices refused to explain anything to them or process their paperwork or even help them withdraw, and the custodians refused to empty the garbage cans and the groundskeepers refused to shovel the snow, and the people who ordinarily cooked for them refused to cook for them and turned the delivery trucks away, or unloaded them and then gave the food directly to their own and their neighbors’ families.

I lost my job and I went home, frightened, sick to my stomach, with less to lose–less status, less money, less safety–and free to do more, or do differently. They all did, we all did.

(There’s another version of this story where I was the only one to refuse, but I like this version better.)

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I actually feel like teaching is one of the areas where I can be useful, but I could be wrong about that. The founders of the institution that employs me made some of their money by buying and selling human beings (which they have acknowledged) and they built it on land stolen from the Narragansett Tribe (which, as far as I know, the institution has not acknowledged).

The proposed “track straightening” of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor would pass through Narragansett tribal land and sacred sites, and members of the tribe have voiced their opposition to it. (It would also damage or destroy forests and wetlands, both of which can help Rhode Island weather climate change.) You can see the environmental impact statement here, and via email you can tell Amtrak/NEC Future not to build this track: info AT necfuture DOT com. They are supposedly taking comments until January 31st.

You can also call the office of Senator Jack Reed, who is in favor of building the new track, at (401) 943-3100, and tell him why you’re opposed to building it. I’ll post some words later today that you can use, if you want.

Alternate History: Refusal 3

The next day, everyone who worked at the Alyeska Pipeline Operations Control Center in Anchorage locked the doors, typed in the codes that would stop the flow of oil at every pump station within four minutes, and sat on their hands.

That’s not entirely accurate. Someone had brought a Sudoku book with only half the puzzles done. They played the game of who could ignore the most phone calls, emails, texts. They’d laid in a stock of food and bottled water, but someone also found it necessary to microwave a box of stale Peeps left over from last Easter. Someone had brought a carving he was working on. They sat and waited for–who would come? There was a betting pool: riot police? Hostage negotiators? Tanks? Most of them had left a letter, just in case.

About half of them had rifles, because they hunted on the weekends, and one person had brought her compound bow because she thought it would be funny, no matter how many times someone else told her that none of this was funny. “Sure it is,” she said.

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Share what you can spare with the water protectors fighting the Sabal Trail Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

This refusal is dedicated to all of them, past, present and future.