“This is what true revolutions are about. They are about redefining our relationships with one another, to the Earth and to the world; about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old; about hope, not despair; about saying yes to life and no to war; about finding the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families.” —Grace Lee Boggs
When I think of a revolution, I think of one of the fundamental tools of freedom that is ignored and keeps us disenfranchised: solidarity. When we unite, we are more powerful. Joe Feagin argues that alienating racist relations make it difficult for people of different races to recognize their commonalities, and to achieve solidarity in fighting broader patterns of inequality that affect the vast majority of people in society, regardless of their race. The history of the Native people is a perfect example of this power, as we have all ignored the damage we have inflicted.
The Native people have been oppressed and dehumanized since the founding of this great country, brutalized and tortured by pilgrims on the Mayflower and forced to erase much of their cultural history and richness. The Lakota, specifically, currently possess 5% of the land originally owed to them by numerous treaties (See Fort Laramie Treaty for the most famous one). Our federal government has broken every single treaty and seized all of the lands that are usable, confining the people to “utilize” the Badlands — land that is so destitute it struggles to grow grass. Aside from its terrain, the land is the burial ground of hundreds of their ancestors massacred in an attempt to protect their land and their people. Many residents say the spirits come alive at night and screaming and the sound of gunshots can be heard at Wounded Knee, the site of at least 300 murders of the Lakota people. They are forced to subsist on meager and unhealthy food rations provided by the federal government. Their original food source, the buffalo, were wiped out in an attempt at assimilation.
In March, myself and six others traveled 14 hours by van to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, home of the Lakota Sioux Reservation. This was my final trip, my final ABI at Loyola, and I was terrified that I was overstepping, entering a community where I was not wanted. Alternative Break Immersions, transformative and wonderful in their foundation, often struggle to maintain the ethical boundary between learning and “providing service” — often coming to communities who never asked for help in the first place. This trip is infamously one of the hardest — groups are intentionally made small to minimize the impact, and each group member should have a foundational understanding of the ABI pillars, even if they have not been on an ABI before. And for a generally welcoming group of people, they have been taken advantage of too many times to trust everyone.
The group researched, read, and educated themselves for a few months before attending this trip, and we all believed we were “prepared”: we had an idea of what the reservation is like. But what I saw, I could not have imagined.
The first step in beginning a revolution is to become proximate. A famous quote by Max Warren states the important task in becoming proximate:
“Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”
AlJazeera states that “The US Census Bureau’s 2014 study found that more than 52 percent of residents in Oglala Lakota, the largest of Pine Ridge’s three counties, lived below the poverty line”. When looking at the news articles, the media, and often, the reservation itself, it seems that the Lakota people have everything stacked against them. “They are voiceless”, we often hear, “The Native people have not been able to recover”.
In many aspects, that is true. The Lakota people have suffered for years under the thumb of the Federal Government and the American people. Each vote for a President, whether it be Barack Obama or Donald Trump, is a vote against the well-being of all Native people in the United States. Every citizen who visits Mount Rushmore, who hikes a Black Hill, contributes to the history of oppression for the Native people. But what is important to note is that they are not voiceless — they have been speaking for generations, but no one has been willing to pass the microphone, to be proximate and hear their stories. I am, by no means, an expert on their story, but instead a messenger, an advocate for each individual to begin to listen to their stories.
The Lakhota (spelled in the Lakota language) consist of several tribes within a confederacy of three dialects: Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota. The Lakota are the largest and most Western of these groups and reside mostly in North and South Dakota. Historically, they should have more, their ancestral land spanning over four states. When Pine Ridge Reservation was initially created, the Lakota Sioux were given 140 acres and 3 cattle each, erasing their pivotal circular living arrangement and installing capitalistic values into a community. They were not allowed to leave the imaginary confines of the reservation and were forced to look at their sacred land, the Black Hills, for over 70 years, from their homes.They watched as their sacred Black Hills were torched and bombed to etch the faces of four presidents that aided in their torture and oppression. Any attempt to exit the reservation meant they could be arrested or killed. White people stole their land and any retaliation of defense would mean hundreds would be killed. Their children were kidnapped and placed in Catholic schools; beaten, dunked in vats of chemicals because Indians were considered “dirty”, hair shaved, and forced to speak English, not Lakota.
To narrate the Lakota without highlighting their strength, resilience, and tenacity despite this oppression is a disservice to their narrative. The Lakota are not weak but are crippled by the actions of a federal government that have brutalized their people since the English arrival on the Mayflower. The people are not voiceless, but instead shut down and erased of any narrative other than one constructed by their oppressors.
After a Sunday service at the Oglala Catholic Church, a participant in our group asked a Lakota man how he feels about President Trump and the effect he could have on his community. His response was, “We have survived the last 44 presidents, we can survive this one”. Their survival is embedded, and necessary.
For the majority of the week, Loyola worked in classrooms at Red Cloud Indian School (RCIS), a K-12 Roman Catholic private school located on the reservation. While our focus was to teach coping skills, we also had the privilege in observing a typical class within each grade level. RCIS is home to Catholic and Lakota teachings, including Lakota language and culture classes in order to revive the language. The majority of RCIS graduate with honors, attend four-year universities and often, return to the reservation. This return to make their own impact is uncommon, as the average amount of students who leave the rez do not return, causing an intellectual “brain-drain”.
After school, we often spoke with residents of the reservation to better understand the culture we had immersed ourselves in or traveled to locations surrounding the reservation. We met Sister Barb, a nun who travels hundreds of miles every Sunday to pick up Lakota elders to attend mass. Sometimes, only five attend mass, but Sr. Barb makes sure it continues. We met Linn Cross Dogg, a mechanic at Red Cloud Indian School that candidly spoke of alcoholism and the way it permeates the community; almost every individual has a personal connection to alcoholism. Our car drove past FEMA trailers in which families of 6 or more lived in. The trailers themselves were intended to be used for up to a year until the government built houses, but many families have been living in their trailers since 1999.
Many fear becoming proximate because it often exposes us more than we would like. In Holy Rosary Chapel, located at Red Cloud Indian School, there are fourteen stations of the Cross that depict Jesus as a Lakota man in Lakota garb. Contrary to other Stations of the Cross, the Roman Army is depicted as 7th Calvary (a United States cavalry army regiment headed by General Custer). White people. Systemic oppression thrives in these places, in our history, but also in complacency in the present. The very injustices occurring in the 21st century are the result of our ancestors. Individuals outside the reservation have the privilege to ignore the injustices that occur within the reservation. They ignore history, or worse, change it, in an attempt to justify and absolve themselves of guilt and pain. Unlike many acts of trauma in the United States history, all Americans are complacent in allowing Native people to live in these conditions. All individuals: young, old, Black, White, Asian, live on the land belonging to those confined to a few square acres. Mother Theresa said, “Forgive us, Lord, if we unwittingly share in the conditions or in a system that perpetuates injustice”. However, the only we can be forgiven is if we acknowledge and work to eradicate these systems.
There is more I wish I could say, wish I could articulate. There is a reason it has taken me months to draft this post. For my group, there are often no words to describe the beauty, the pain, the reconciliation we experienced on our trip to Pine Ridge. Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka. The Sacred, the Divine, or the Great Mystery. Instead of our testimonies, we were given the tools to begin the process of healing, of forgiveness, and of social justice. Garrett Gundlach, SJ said that “Some things in life aren’t invitations to change, they are imperative to change”. It is no longer our choice to determine if we help others or, more importantly, fight with others. Solidarity is pivotal and preserves ourselves and this Earth.
For ways to get involved, check out these websites:
American Indian Association of Illinois: The American Indian Association of Illinois strives to transform American Indian education into an experience founded in native culture, language, and history fused with knowledge, excellence, and tribal values which will enhance tribal nations and urban native communities where American Indian families work, live, worship, attend school, care for their elders, and raise their children.
D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies: Its goals are to encourage the use of the Newberry collections in these areas of study; improve the quality of what is written about American Indians and indigenous peoples; educate teachers about American Indian and indigenous cultures, histories, and literatures; assist American Indian tribal and indigenous historians in their research; and provide a meeting ground where scholars, teachers, tribal historians, and others can discuss their work with each other. Fellowships and programs are available.
This semester, I took a class on Genocides, focused in the 20th and 21st century. For my research paper, my focus was on the Syrian Revolution turned into civil war. I am by no means an expert on the crisis, nor know the full story, but felt the need to share that this is not the only time the United States government had a chance to do something in the five years of the Syrian government. They have continued to do nothing, despite these chances:
Fifteen years ago, Kofi Annan issued a report to the UN General Assembly on the international community’s failure to prevent the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995. He called it, “A horror without parallel in the history of Europe since the Second World War”. Reporter Janine Di Giovanni argues that similar horrors are repeating themselves:
What began as a peaceful protest in March 2011 has launched into full-scale civil war between the brutal and oppressive dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian rebels, and jihadist forces struggling for freedom and power.
As of 2016, the Syrian Center for Policy Research claims that over 470,000 people, or 11.5% of the population, have died in Syria since March 2011. Despite these astonishing numbers, the international community, particularly the United States and other Western Nations, have all but ignored the conflict, citing multiple reasons that border on excuses. The United States and other Western Nations had multiple opportunities to stop the conflict but chose not to, as it did not influence their political agenda. Thus, the conflict has ballooned into a world humanitarian crisis that leaves Western Nations in a precarious position, and with a newly elected president, a potential destruction of the Syrian State.
The Arab Nations historically have had icy ties with the United States and the West. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. continued to perceive the world through the eyes of hegemony, an action that, according to Samuel Huntington, has contributed to conflict in other regions around the world. The United States’ pressure to impose democratic and capitalist ideals on historically autocratic and communist regimes has dubbed them as an “evil force” in world affairs, especially among Arab elites. Despite this tension, the United States, and other Western nations have maintained what is called the “stability paradigm”— the model of Arab governments doing the West’s bidding in return for the West overlooking the suppression of dissent. Historically, Syria has done the opposite, and the United States has opposed the Syrian regime for its promotion of terrorism in countries nonaligned to the United States.
When the revolution began in Syria in March 2011, it took the entire world by surprise. To the outside world, Syria seemed stable, its people content with an Assad regime. Internally, Syria’s authoritarian government was deteriorating. Its geographic position, as well as a history of exploiting leaders, has made the country weak and trapped in a pattern of instability. Syrians were ruled by the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, then France until 1946, when Syria gained independence. The 1970s brought the Assad regime, a family belonging to the Alawite minority and about 15% of the Syrian population, a minority compared to the 75% Sunni population. Hafyz Assad ruled the nation with an iron fist and effectively eradicated all opposition groups in the country. In 1979, the Muslim Brotherhood began a terror campaign targeting the Alawite sect, legitimizing Assad’s retaliation on the enemy, and inherently, its citizens. Syria’s turbulent past, particularly after independence, resulted in overall fear and hesitation of any activities that could result in instability and chaos. Jean-Pierre Filiu argues that the resilience of Arab regimes stems partly from their ability to portray themselves as the only alternative to chaos. The Assad family promoted this narrative, ensuring his citizens that without him, Syria would be unstable and chaotic. This narrative helped halt the potential of revolutions and protests for years and kept the international community at bay. This narrative is also why the international community did not intervene in the affairs of Syria, limiting its involvement to economic sanctions each time they believed Syria promoted terrorist acts. This faux stability was so deeply ingrained, it penetrated the beliefs of the Assad regime. When the Arab Spring arose, President Bashar al-Assad told the Wall Street Journal that Syria was immune to the wave of protests sweeping through the region due to its extreme stability.
The Arab Spring vastly changed this immunity, and the repercussions were felt throughout the Arab nations. Young adults had witnessed the oppression of the Syrian government first-hand, as well as heard stories from their parents and grandparents. At the beginning of the 21st century, 61% of the Syrian was under the age of 25, and had been trapped in a youth bulge. The young, highly capable population was unable to make ends meet. The youth were also inspired by the acts of Egypt and Tunisia before them. In both countries, waves of protest had the ability to depose leaders who were serving lifetime roles, inspiring Syrians who believed this was not possible.
In addition, at the beginning of his presidency, Bashar al-Assad promised the Syrian people, social and political reforms. In November 2000, he ordered the release of 600 political prisoners, and in April, allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to resume political activity. These reforms, titled the “Damascus Spring”, resulted in a massive wave of civil society organizations, pro-democracy groups and increased criticism toward the government. These actions increased the potential of opposition against Assad, and as a precaution, he rescinded most of these reforms. By September 2001, Assad had crushed the hopes of millions of Syrian youth who believed their country had moved past authoritarian rule. Instead, sectarianism continued under a veil of modernization.
Syrians were outraged by Assad’s false promises, but this was stifled by the Mukhabarat, a police intelligence agency tied to Assad’s regime. The United States was aware of the Mukhabarat and critiqued its use of force to subdue the Syrian people. In 2002, a Senior US official included Syria in a list of states that make-up an “axis of evil”, first listed by President Bush. This was due to the Mukhabarat being closely affiliated to the regime, allowing them to run rampant without any accountability. Their use of overt intimidation and fear left Syrians, including at times, Bashar al-Assad, complacent. An international student studying in Aleppo prior to the revolution noticed that the Mukhabarat were everywhere: “inescapable in their unofficial uniform of black leather jackets and dress pants”. Though the United States and other Western Nations vehemently opposed the use of Mukharabat, criticism, and economic sanctions were not enough to stop the Assad regime.
Violence and political oppression were only the beginning of Syria’s problems and the ingredients for a revolution. Many theorists believe that major crises occurred during Assad’s regime that was not addressed, exacerbating the conflict. In this case, Syria experienced a severe drought from 2006-2010, which resulted in large-scale migration of populations and malnutrition. The government’s response to the drought was to downplay the conflict, deny it, or blame it on the international community. These attempts to solve the conflict made it worse and introduced an opposition that historically was ambivalent: the rural areas. Assad’s denial of the crisis would inevitably prove consequential.
Five years later, the conflict in Syria has become sectarian, and the actors involved continue to shift alliances and struggle for power. Those involved have depended on the international community for help, and the amount of assistance determines which side has the upper hand. In the early months of the revolution, as violence grew with the use of the regular military in acts of repression, defection within the army rose, leading to the birth of the Free Syrian Army (FSA, al-Jaysh al-Suri al-Hurr). Their demands include the end of the use of torture, stop the killings of protesters, and stop the arrests of friends and family. They are the “official” opposition and are supported by the West, though limited.
The direct opposition to the Free Syrian Army is the Syrian Armed Forces, the remaining military members who have yet to defect and support Assad and his regime. The Syrian Armed Forces completely dominate the air and have been accused numerous times throughout the war of human rights abuses. In addition, the regime gains strength in the support it receives through minority communities who have taken up arms in Syrian regions, including the Alawites, the Druz, the Christians, and the Kurds. The Assad regime has devoted itself to be the “protector of minorities”, which could easily change under new leadership. The Syrian Armed Forces receive substantial resources from Russia and Iran, Syria’s two main allies and their support is the only reason the Syrian Armed forces Assad have remained standing.
In addition to the Syrian Armed Forces and the Free Syria Army, both groups also fight against numerous jihadist and extremist groups that have entered the area since the conflict began. These include Hezbollah, the Islamic Front, and the Islamic State. While Hezbollah is in support of the regime, both the Islamic Front and the Islamic State seek to establish an independent state in regions in Syria, complicating the conflict. Their presence has also influenced the West’s role in the conflict. Since their arrival, the United States and other countries significantly reduced their intervention aid for fear of supporting Islamic terrorists, a policy the United States does not negotiate.
As mentioned above, the international community plays a crucial role in the outcome of the Syrian revolution, and ultimately, who will end up the sole winner. Russia is one of President Bashar al-Assad’s most significant backers, as the survival of its regime is critical to maintaining Russian interests in the country. Russia has intervened militarily through the launch of air campaigns against the Islamic State so that President Assad can continue to focus his forces on the rebels still in control of prominent areas of the country. Russia has also blocked resolutions critical of President Assad at the UN Security Council, as well as continued to supply weapons to the region, despite international disapproval. Iran is also the main contributor to Assad’s regime. The BBC claims that Iran has spent billions of dollars a year since the revolution, as well as sent in trusted military advisors, subsidized weapons, and oil transfers to substantiate the cost.
Historically, Iran and Russia are tense allies to the United States, and their involvement could be the main reason has chosen not to become heavily involved in the conflict, despite multiple opportunities. Apart from providing humanitarian aid, the country has done nothing to substantiate the conflict to favor the rebel forces. The United States threatened military intervention if Assad did not destroy his chemical weapons arsenal being utilized on citizens, but the pressure was ineffective. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Assad’s regime, as well as the Islamic State, were utilizing chemical weapons, including chlorine gas, in rebel-held areas as recent as 2016. The United States also developed a program in 2013 to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels, but it failed and was seen as a great embarrassment for the United States, with few having reached the frontline at all. 
All actors involved have utilized some form of violence during the revolution and civil war, and it has been the method to achieve any victory. As the war has progressed, so has these acts of violence, becoming more lethal, and often, considered human rights abuses by the UN and Human Rights Watch. These acts of human rights abuses have been targeted and intentional, bordering on genocidal and were present in the early onstage of war. Ignoring the complicated stream of power struggles, the United States had the power to intervene on these issues in the early days of the revolution but chose not to remain laisses-faire, which has ultimately backfired. During the first months of the uprising, the Assad regime reacted to the protesters with unnecessary violence, commanding forces to open fire on demonstrators, sparking nationwide protests and a demand for Assad’s resignation. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic also discovered that both the rebel forces and Assad’s regime have committed war crimes against the other party, including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances.
One major act of genocide has been the use of mass rape in Syria, on both sides of the conflict. In February 2013, the International Rescue Committee’s report included surveys from Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan identifying rape as the primary reason their families fled the country. Similar to the effect of rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina, rape can be devastating to Muslim women, who can be shunned from the community if known they were raped, and many women who escape become subject to sexual predation and sex slavery in the region, particularly as refugees. Torture is also extremely common among those who are kidnapped. Inmates at government-controlled prisons in Aleppo have died of starvation and infectious diseases caused by denial of food, sanitation, and medical care. Prisoners who survived torture recall electrocution, beatings, burnings, and cuttings. In one case, a man’s intestine was pulled from his body and left for two days before the wound was stitched closed.
Chemical weapons and restriction of humanitarian resources have also been a tool of Assad’s regime, as well as the Islamic State. The Washington Post claims hundreds of people were killed in August 2013 after rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin were fired at several suburbs of Damascus, and that they were targeting women and children specifically. Sulfur mustard and sarin have also been claimed to use. The Atlantic describes the use of sarin as a subtle way to kill civilians: “Since sarin has no smell or taste, the person may very well have no idea what’s going on. Their chest tightens and vision blurs. If the exposure was great enough, it can progress to convulsions, paralysis, and death within 1 to 10 minutes”. Military helicopters, shelling, and barrel bombs have been used indiscriminately in neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals, cutting food supplies and resources, effectively starving out hundreds of thousands of people.
Some of the most horrifying human rights abuses have occurred to children. In a report by Unicef, the number of children living under siege has doubled in less than one year, and nearly 500,000 children live in Syria, almost completely cut off from sustained humanitarian aid and basic services. Syrian children are also heavily at risk abroad as refugees. The New York Times claims that over one million Syrian children live in Turkey, and thousands of them, like Ahmad, are in sweatshops, factories or vegetable fields instead of in a classroom. Classrooms in besieged areas such as Aleppo contain some underground classrooms, but those are often destroyed in the shelling. Restricted educated access can lead to an entire generation unable to read or write, or displaced permanently and unable to return to rebuild Syria once the revolution has ended. In addition, these children have left against their will, against brutal circumstances. This type of trauma at such a young age is what leads to the emergence of youth extremist groups in the future, and evidence of this can be seen in 20th-century conflicts, such as the Interahamwe in Rwanda, whose membership age range averaged between 15 and 25.
These human rights abuses should have been legitimate enough to influence Western nations to become involved, especially as the conflict begins to affect their own infrastructure. As of December 2015, there are 6.6 million internally displaced persons within the country, and 4.2 million have fled the country and strived to find refuge in other countries. These numbers prove that this conflict is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the 21st century, and certainly larger than the world had assumed. The United States’ method to wait has been thrown back in their faces, and their sudden intervention and advocacy for peace have come too late.
What could have the United States and Western nations possibly done for the people of Syria? It could be argued that due to intense relations with Iran and Russia, the United States didn’t stand a chance in protecting the Syrian people. Others claim that it was the United States’ ability to ignore massive international conflict until it becomes detrimental to their own political agenda. The United States has openly criticized Assad’s regime, as well as his father’s, but did nothing to promote his deposal other than impose economic sanctions and “threaten” military action. Samuel Huntington argues that The United States is the sole country in the world with an upper-hand in every domain of diplomacy, ideology, economy, and military to promote certain interests in differing parts of the world, yet have remained silent. It could be argued that the United States has no leverage in the Middle East, particularly post 9/11, but even countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose relations are tense, has expressed anger over the Obama administration’s decision not to intervene militarily time and time again.
Currently, President Bashar al-Assad has recaptured most of Aleppo, becoming a turning point in an almost six-year war. He commented earlier this week that “It is a significant landmark toward the end of the battle, but the war in Syria will not end until terrorism is eliminated”. Both Russia and Syria desire the complete destruction of the Islamist State. The newly-elected president, Donald Trump, supports Russia wholeheartedly and is motivated to make a partnership. During the election campaign, he also discussed the importance of destroying ISIS, which could effectively destroy the Syrian state in its entirety, as IS currently holds major territory in the region. And yet, the Obama administration has remained involved at arm’s length, not enough to produce meaningful change. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, called territory reclamation “an indication that something positive could happen, but we’re going to have to wait and see,” and that the United States’ approach to the situation is to listen carefully, but scrutinize the actions of the Russians. Unfortunately, waiting does not bode well for the Syrians, who are trapped inside their own country while the world watches them die.
The United States’ policy of waiting has put them in a precarious position. Unable to intervene militarily for fear of a larger conflict involving other foreign forces, they are forced to observe and to negotiate in a region that has been let down by a once dominating superpower. It is unclear how Trump will approach Syria, but has stated that Assad’s resignation is less important than the destruction of ISIS. The tables have turned for Assad, but only time will determine whether the conflict ends in the utter destruction or relative peace. What is clear is that Obama’s lack of initiative in the Syrian region will ultimately haunt his political legacy.
 Lesch, David. The Arab Spring: Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012, 88.
 Syria Profile – Timeline.” BBC Middle East (BBC News), December 5, 2016. US imposes economic sanctions on Syria over what it calls its support for terrorism and failure to stop militants entering Iraq.
 Solomon, Jay and Bill Spindle. Syria Strongman: Time for “Reform.” (wsj.com), January 31, 2011.
 Lesch, David. The Arab Spring: Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012, 88.
 BBC, “Syria: The Story of the Conflict,” BBC Middle East (BBC News), March 11, 2016
 Lesch, David. The Arab Spring: Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012, 80.
 Droz-Vincent, Philippe. “‘State of Barbary’ (take Two): From the Arab Spring to the Return of Violence in Syria.” The Middle East Journal 68, no. 1 (2014). 40.
 Lesch, David. The Arab Spring: Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012, 87.
 Syria Profile – Timeline.” BBC Middle East (BBC News), December 5, 2016.
 Lesch, David. The Arab Spring: Change and Resistance in the Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2012, 88.
 Panter, J. G. (2011, July 13). Life among Syria’s Not-so-Secret Police.
 De Châtel, Francesca. “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the Revolution,” Middle Eastern Studies 50, no. 4 (January 27, 2014). 522.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Day, and the 2nd Presidential Debate, I felt that this was the best way to articulate how I feel in the midst of this election (mostly, I wish it would just end).
As an avid past watcher of the Apprentice and awareness of who Donald Trump was prior to the election, his comments do not surprise me. Frankly, they do not upset me either. They reveal a larger issue that people are only now discovering. This, I believe, is the bigger problem.
Sexual assault, why a seemingly trivial subject, is actually extremely important in a political process. Sexist remarks often become policies that determine how much women are paid, how much they get on maternity leave, whether they are required to carry a fetus to term. To ignore the comments reveals the character of that very person, the core values that take precedent over ones livelihood.
For as long as I can remember, I witnessed sexual exploitation and/or assault, from someone else, or on my own person. Movies I watched contained scenes of half-naked women being choked, smacked, kicked, raped, and it seemed normal. When I began to wear a bra, go through puberty, I was stared at, catcalled, gestured at, and even touched. At age 12, my mother yelled at two older men for whistling at me. At age 16, a man on the street asked me how I would like to be fucked. A man I was “talking to” at age 17 told me, “you look like you like to be choked”.
When I was 19 years old, a man I was dating raped me. I liked him a lot, and remember feeling butterflies when I spoke to him. I remember saying no, three times. I remember wearing a giant tan sweater, leggings, and Ugg boots. I remember feeling paralyzed, like I was in a dream. And I remembered his apology: “Well I am sorry you thought I did that to you, but you seemed to want it too, and it was the fault of both of us”.
Though many would find this shocking, its not. Women often are raped and sexually assaulted by people they know, quite well, which makes it harder to prove sexual assault: being in a relationship or talking to someone means they have jurisdiction over your body. I could not tell, not report what seemed consensual to others.
Donald Trump is also great at circumventing guilt.
In the 2nd Presidential Debate, when asked about the Access Hollywood BTS video, in which he told Bill Bush to grab a woman by the pussy, he responded:
“That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I’m not proud of it, but that was something that happened. If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse — mine are words; his was action. This is what he has done to women. Never been anybody in history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women, so you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.
Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them here tonight. … And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.”
I was 19 years old when I was raped, and because rhetoric is spoken like this daily, the rapist believes he did nothing wrong.
I know for most, I am preaching to the choir. For most, no one knows about my sexual assault. It has been something shameful that I have battled since, it completely changed the way I see myself, see others. I feel the trauma daily, every time I see a woman raped on-screen, every time I hear a politician advocate for a rapist’s acquittal. I identify with the trauma of African-American, Latina, Asian, White women who are raped on college campuses, by bosses, in their homes.
Equally unfortunate is the narrative of toxic masculinity, that promotes a rape culture for both men and women. Men are raped daily and are told they cannot reveal this, as it makes them less of a man. They are told to “take” virginity, to give it to her rough, for fear of being gay, of being a pussy. Aggression is required in order to have a healthy relationship.
Sexual assault is also often racist. I recall the case of a police officer who raped a multitude of poor, Black women, targeting them specifically because “no one would believe them if they reported it”. Muslim women cannot share that they have been raped because they would be shunned from their communities. Latina and Asian women are either sexual deviants or fetishized virgins. There is no in-between.
I have family members who plan to vote for Trump. Who do not see the correlation between Trump and the marginalization of thousands of people. Who only see their future and not the future of their children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.
I am not here to teach, or promote, or highlight Trump’s comments anymore than they already have. I am not here to overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton with open arms. I only came to share what is already known. The hate rhetoric Trump spews is acknowledged and welcomed by a vast majority of this country. His racist comments are the same. Be aware of those that say them in your own circles, in your own homes. They are not here for you, for me. “Something that happened” continues to impact people daily, and it is important that it is discovered, addressed, and dismantled.
This post is not an act of gratitude. I am not feeling grateful, having trouble feeling a sense of gratefulness, a sense of pride for this country.
In a little under two days, I watched a statistic become a physical entity. On average, a Black man is murdered every 28 hours. In a little under two days, I was forced to watch Alton Sterling and Philando Castile die on a computer screen. I watched them be murdered by the very people I have grown up believing they would protect me. In cold blood. Like a circus act, or a scene out of the Hunger Games. I stared at post after post of videos of men face down and face up, blood drenching their shirts, eyes blank, with captions like “so horrible” and “#AltonSterling”. And in Alton Sterling, I saw Romell. I saw my Dad, my cousins, my uncles, friends. And I felt confused. How am I not safe? How is my family not safe?
Black and Brown bodies. Their deaths on display because Americans love a good shock. Executions used as supplementary evidence on CNN, displayed over and over. Americans stare blankly, mumble “that is so horrible” or “well he DID have a gun”, and flip the channel to Modern Family.
I wish I could say that these deaths make me want to fight back, but I can’t grieve fast enough to make a plan of action. I can’t attend a protest for Philando Castile if I am still in utter shock over Alton Sterling. I’m forced to read their last words next to a hashtag, another name to put on a shirt, but it doesn’t matter how much I shout and scream #BlackLivesMatter, they will keep killing us.
I feel tired. I’m tired of feeling like a trending topic. I’m tired of allies, both White AND Non-Black, comment on how “terrible” this situation is. I’m tired of hearing from friends and colleagues who mention angrily that there is still someone in their lives who shouts #AllLivesMatter. I’m tired of feeling frightened every time my partner glares at police officers because they could take it the wrong way and he will be next. I’m tired of waiting for the next hashtag so people can ask, “oh, BLM movement is still happening?” I’m tired, and my heart hurts.
And with that exhaustion comes shame. The “allies” that I critique share the same characteristics as me. I am not vocal for those in Iraq, Syria, Medina. My Facebook shares are my only acts of resistance. We all are guilty of purposefully reducing human dignity and human life to a photo share. Trending topics don’t stop ISIS from bombing the 2nd holiest site to Muslims and don’t stop the media from calling it Radical Islam. I still can’t breathe. I can no longer keep my hands up. When will our world be given time to heal? Will we always be subjected to this violence?
My action will be self-care. Prayer. I cannot advocate for myself if I am surrounded by the very images drowning me. I must surround myself with people who care for me, support me, and remind me that the world is not filled with people who believe they have the power to determine who can stay and live on this Earth. I will ignore those that tell me “not all cops are bad” and “not all White people are racist”. I will heal from these public executions, because my life depends on it.
See below for ways you can participate in self-care during this time:
Today, amidst the many posts surrounding Mizzou, I encountered a post that a friend of mine shared. In it contained screenshots of YikYak posts (informally known as the depths of racism in all college campuses) from Loyola University Chicago. So far, Loyola has been relatively untouched by the events, with exception to the Walk-Out Protest in solidarity that is being planned on Friday.
For those who cannot see, the comment under “black lives matter. period” is “#notheydont”.
This is a direct quote from the Loyola community. It was stated in anonymity, as most ignorant people do, because they understand that their words are hurtful, and believe that staying anonymous will keep them safe.
America prides itself on being a place where all individuals, regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, can live in a society where they will not be discriminated against, protected, and practice free speech. All of these rights are removed with one solitary threat. While freedom of speech applies to all citizens, those who want to stand in solidarity with Mizzou are bombarded with thinly veiled threats and insults, referring to us as “shitskins”.
We speak our mind, share our thoughts, and are told that we are irrational. Unjustified. How many times will we have to be called Nigger before we are acknowledged? How many threats will we receive?
Lately, I have seen and heard many comments (either pertaining to me or about a friend) that have more than angered me. In the wake of Ferguson and the amount of Black people that are dying at the hands of white police, the open dialogue of derogatory tweets, cultural movements in fashion, Twitter, etc…the world seems to be tensing with every moment. Being away in Rome has blunted the effect, but my Facebook is overwhelmed by what seems like two different sides: the #BlackLivesMatter and the #AllLivesMatter.
I have friends of all different shapes and sizes and races, and I discuss race with each and every one of them, whether they want to or not. Some of that dialogue, I am aware, is often uncomfortable to some. This I can understand; we live in a world where we were taught that racism no longer exists. The time where people of color hang from trees and are mobbed in restaurants and drinking from different water fountains is “long” gone.
Well, it’s not.
Like many things, racism is a manifestation of a long history in America. It takes many forms and continues to evolve with each generation. Picture yourself: you are sick, very sick, and you decide to go to the doctor. You have a bacterial infection in your body, they say.
For example, you go to the doctor, and your doctor prescribes a medication that he tells you must be taken for 21 days. You obediently take the medication for 14 days, but as you start to feel better, getting back into the swing of your life, you forget to take the rest of the medication. You are healed, but not completely.
We have taken steps to prevent many aspects of racism that my grandparents and great-grandparents had to suffer through. Slavery is gone, the Civil Rights Act is in effect, Affirmative Action is thriving. But, we didn’t take the medication for the prescribed number of days. The virus is still in the body, slowly reproducing until it can take over your body again, and this time, it is much stronger.
That virus is the nuanced racism today. I still am asked questions that exemplify that I am different, unusual, or unique. I am all of those things, but they all have nothing to do with my race.
MY PEOPLE ARE DYING. Am I supposed to stand back and pretend that everything is okay, everything will fall into place? I have to remember another name, and one day, it could be someone I know and love. It could be me. It doesn’t even matter how I am portrayed in the media anymore, I don’t care if they were a “thug”, I just want to wake up one morning and not hear another African-American has died at the hand of white police, and are not receiving repercussions for their actions. Is this an accident? Because it doesn’t seem to be. Police brutality is an issue nationwide, so why are only African-Americans dying?
We riot because our hearts are heavy. Our souls hurt. For years and years we are subjected to oppression in the most systematic ways, and I believe that many of us are tired of being in the hole. We are not fighting back, we are fighting for our life.
Do we not deserve life?
Phot courtesy of Buzzfeed and Sait Serkan Gurbuz / Reuters