Oppression Breeds Resistance
Palestine, Black Lives Matter, Colonialism and oppressive systems.
Over the past several days, we’ve seen increasing repression of those who dare to speak up and take action to support Palestine. Multiple big names in Hollywood, from Susan Sarandon to Tom Cruise’s agent, have been punished for taking a stand against Israel’s attack on Gaza. Three individuals who engaged in direct action against Elbit Systems, a technology and weapons manufacturer, are reportedly being held without bail and investigated by the FBI. Police have brutally attacked protesters in Chicago, and cracked down on other protests with a disturbing ferocity as well.
But what a lot of U.S. politicians and monied interests appear unable or unwilling to understand is that when they crack down on Palestine protests, when they lie and call us terrorists, when they try to shut down every avenue by which people can push for a ceasefire, it builds an equal and opposite reaction. In the last several days we’ve also seen a Kamala Harris fundraiser protested by ceasefire activists, an Israeli embassy targeted and painted with bloody hands, the California Democratic Convention overrun by activists, and more. The list of innovative, escalating, and necessary actions goes on. People are refusing to let this go and refusing to move on. This is due, in part, to the increasing attacks on the movement for a full ceasefire and a Free Palestine. Figures in authority appear unable to realize that oppression breeds resistance.
Now, they should know this. Politicians, police, and powerful individuals saw what happened in 2020. Immediately after George Floyd’s murder, millions of people flowed into the streets across the United States, and across the world. And police forces, particularly in the U.S., responded with mass violence. Eyes were shot out with “less lethal” munitions, countless canisters of tear gas were thrown into non-violent crowds, and thousands were arrested for daring to say “cops shouldn’t kill.” But, what followed this initial wave of violent repression was an even larger mass movement of millions insisting that we must make sure Black Lives Matter in this country, that we must stop police murders, and that police forces should be defunded. It was the largest protest movement since the civil rights era, and, according to the New York Times, possibly the largest in U.S. history.
If you recall late May and early June 2020, you’ll remember videos of police slashing people’s tires, beating teenagers, and shoving the elderly. And you’ll hopefully recall your emotional response: the fury, the righteous anger, the rage at injustice. It is those feelings that drove more and more Americans to join the movement out in the streets, to say “This cannot stand.” It was the initial murder of George Floyd that sparked such a massive wave in the Black Lives Matter movement around the country, but it was, in large part, the brutal police repression that led record numbers of people to flood every city from Los Angeles to New York, from Minneapolis to Austin, from Melbourne to Rio de Janeiro, from Amsterdam to Tokyo and beyond. Brutal repression spurs massive resistance.
However what we are often asked to believe, contrary to all evidence, is that resistance emerges from a vacuum. We are asked to believe, particularly in cases where the resistance is violent, that the oppressed group rising up is simply evil, or less human, or insane in some way. As Hamilton Nolan recently discussed, the label “terrorist” often works to shut off our thinking, to attempt to get us to stop looking at what may have caused someone to resort to such acts. In fact the word criminal in the United States is often used in a similar manner. Once the label has been officially applied to someone by the judicial system they can be written off, there is no need to examine the root causes of their behavior, they can be sent away and locked up with no qualms because that label confers inherent wrong-ness. And yet crime persists, despite the highest incarceration rate on Earth. And people fighting colonialism, U.S. incursions in the Middle East, and oppression worldwide persist. Because the underlying causes continue to go unaddressed.
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What we’re seeing right now in many corners of the globe is really more than just persistence. It is a growing discontent, and thus a growing movement to resist the violent status quo. Just this past weekend I was at a rally calling on Congressman Dan Goldman to join the ceasefire resolution and work for peace.
We who gathered to pressure Rep. Goldman knew, and know, that he is unlikely to sign on soon, but we also know that every politician must be pressured. And, as many of us were saying afterwards, if he doesn’t sign on someone should and likely will primary him. This is the ripple effect of resistance, the ripple effect of people desperately wanting to end the genocide in Gaza and Free Palestine. Politicians who continue to fund the bombs, to send the drones, and to ignore the people within their own party can and hopefully will be replaced. People are organizing to oust them, and more and more are seeing how a government that prioritizes spending trillions on war when a growing number of Americans are sleeping in the streets might need more serious overhauling as well.
In ignoring us, in sending police after us, U.S. politicians are building resistance to their support for Israel, and to the status quo more broadly. Despite everything they’ve seen the last couple years they either have failed to learn this lesson or are simply so entrenched in their habits and in these oppressive systems that they refuse to change, refuse to bend when pressured by the vast majority of their voters to concede on even one issue. I don’t say all of this as encouragement of resistance, although I of course support the growing movement calling for a ceasefire, for a Free Palestine, and increasingly calling for an overhaul of how we do politics in the West. But I say this more as a fact of life. Oppression breeds resistance. People have a deep yearning for freedom, for a better life, and for a better world for all of us. Every oppressive entity through our history has always been met with resistance, and more and more people are seeing how even though oppressive and harmful systems might be more insidious, and harder to pinpoint, they too must be recognized, dismantled, and replaced.
As I write this people in England are targeting Elbit Systems, the Israeli tech and weapons manufacturer mentioned in the first paragraph. Early this week the company was vandalized in New Hampshire, today it’s Manchester. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. But today is the first time I’ve seen firefighters refuse to help police quell the disruptive action.
It’s the first time I’ve seen this type of solidarity. As the movement against the Israeli attack on Gaza has grown, the repression has grown too. But the solidarity and the resistance to that repression is outpacing it. We are meeting each attempt to squash dissent, to crush the liberatory movement in support of Palestine with an equal and overwhelming reaction. And this will continue. It’s not going away. Now it must, we must, grow and expand to target the entire oppressive apparatus and the systems that prioritize violence, extraction, and profit over human life, over life on this planet as a whole. Gaza is currently being made uninhabitable. But as we’ve discussed before millions are being displaced in Sudan, in the Congo, and across the world. In some cases it is overt violence, war, murder. In others it is the slower and equally deadly onslaught of the climate crisis, the onslaught of corporations destroying ecosystems and forcing people to leave their ancestral lands.
But a countervailing force is rising too. And we are that force. Everyone taking action to resist the systems that push death and dehumanization is a part of that force. I’ll leave you with with the profound words of Rania El Mugammar: “Every injustice seems insurmountable, until it’s not. Enslaved people imagined, dreamt of, and fought relentlessly for freedom, until it became real. This is true for everyone living under profound tyranny. Liberation is the only inevitability, freedom is a constant struggle.” So onward. Keep organizing, keep pushing, keep working towards a new dawn and a new day.
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