Our Survival is Contingent Upon Joy

Posted on November 6, 2008

Today’s guest-wit is Dalia Yedidia, regular Thick Wit contributor and writer. A Bay Area Native and one-time New Yorker, she is currently living in Chicago. Dalia has worked on a number of civic and political campaigns and was one of the millions who attended the ceremonies in Grant Park. Here she shares an open letter to those of us living in the argument of activism in these United States.

Companer@s, friends, family, people of the world living and breathing today,

Earlier, I received this email (excerpt pasted below), and my first reaction was an anger I am not familiar with, as I do not feel it often.

[If you don’t want any rain on your Obama-parade, do not continue reading; if you are willing to read what you already know, but may have succeeded in quieting its powerful truth into a small dark corner of the brain, especially considering the raucous tears and screams last night from people like my mother, who immigrated to this country from Bogota during the McCarthy era, and the father of my baby cousins, who bought inauguration tickets back when Obama announced his candidacy in 2007 with the feeble hope that he and his daughter (my Mia) could be in DC for the inauguration of the first president that “looks kinda like Papa” (Mia commenting on Barack Obama’s resemblance of her own father), then please proceed.]


Compas, I think it is important to remember what Obama’s role is. This is a man who
a) was running to be the commander and chief of our imperialist, military (thats what the president is).
b) has all the tools from the Bush administration (patriot act, momentum towards un-ending war in the middle east) with none of the criticism from the people that the Bush admin had.
c) is not trying to pull out of the middle east, and has said that he is going to escalate in Afganistan (bombing of civilians and villages), and has said that he is ready to go into Pakistan and Iran (2 more countries in this protracted war for control of whole people groups and countries)
d) has said that ‘the law must be upheld’ when asked about the Sean Bell shooting (Bell was a young black man shot 50 times by the police on the night before his wedding at his bachelor party, you guys have heard of this). Obama didn’t say a word about police repression, the disproportionate number of black people incarcerated, nothing. He said ‘the law must be upheld”
e) He blamed Black families and fathers in his ‘Fathers Day Speech’ for the number of Black youth that are on the streets and in jail, rather than say anything about how the system demands that their be the under and un-employed to further capitalist ends, rather than say anything about the school-to-prison pipeline and privatized prisons gaining from the huge prison population
f) he hasnt said shit about immigrants or the raids waged by the ICE to deport huge amounts of people without documents.
Obama isn’t a reason for celebration at all…

Like I said, my first reaction was utter resistance to the words and their meaning, a frustration and seething incoherence that could only be healed by writing this blog entry: Why can’t we just celebrate for one day? Why does this have to mean so much of our hope and momentum toward believing in change must be rendered false, inaccurate, or merely a product of a government-controlled media that preys on contrived “historic moments” that in reality signify empty paradigm shifts and the same old system with a new fresh face?

After walking with my initial anger, I began to process it more clearly, and link it to a dissatisfaction, firmly rooted irritation, and subtle fear I have relating to social actors, activists (self-identified), movers, shakers, party people with an eye on radical change, and all those who believe that another world is possible, in my life. This annoyance on a good day, and bottomless sadness on a not-as-good day, spawns from my observations and conversations with so many people around the idea that we, people working toward change in whatever capacity, are hypercritical, soul-sucking individuals who are ultimately unable to be satisfied due to our sharpened involuntary reaction to dissect, and therefore, destroy, any ounce of potential forward-movement. And while we could argue about happiness and joy’s worth or actual clout in a world shrouded in white supremacist hetero-patriarchal smog, for me at least, laughter, fun, celebration, and all those other seemingly meaningless and trite words of yesteryear are vital to my survival. Denying that fact is dehumanizing, on an individual and collective scale.

This idea that ‘us rads can’t never be happy’, or we just criticize everything to the point of disintegration, disinterest, or disbelief, is not new. Contrary to being an original thought, it’s a topic I’ve spoken with many of you about many times, though clearly it does not cease to plague my daily judgment with meta-judgment, or to allow my unconscious knee-jerk bickering with the world each morning go unchecked as I routinely switch to bickering with myself about bickering. This fear of our collective ability to extend beyond critique and dissatisfaction, in the end though, truly relates to me (read: PROJECTING) and my worry that I, too, am individually unable to just be happy, be okay, be satisfied, be.

Relating my emotional (and therefore entire) state of being back to Obama–because he seems to be all anyone’s talking about today, Wednesday, November 5, 2008, which also happens to be my own brother’s 24th birthday, as well as the day that election results confirmed that California, my home state, voted to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry (the right was passed almost 6 months ago, in May of this year): As it stands, today it is impossible for me to just feel one thing, and that thing be overwhelming positivity, because of who was elected president of a country I still don’t know if I can call my own on November 4, 2008. As much as I would like to blame the email I received (excerpt above) as the source of my internal conflict, that is false. As much as I want to say that the email was written by some cynical anti-capitalist who hates everything and is incapable of feeling happiness due to not having enough love, support, delicious food, good sex or people they admire in their life, I know I cannot because their face, politics, and sentiment are too often reflected in my own. I could have just as easily written that email and included reasons from a-z about why “Obama isn’t a reason for celebration at all…”

So why am I, are we, so goddamn critical? What gave me the self-righteous privilege, and time and resources, to never want “to settle”? Could it be because I’m young, and, unlike my parents, I don’t and will never know what life was like prior to the Civil Rights Movement? Or is it because I just have that youthful vigor and still have the ability to expend all that energy on demanding higher standards and being willing to say that good enough really is NOT good enough? Or maybe it’s a combination of those possibilities (a big maybe) along with the idea that “People are complicated,” which is a favorite saying that means absolutely nothing and everything all at once that someone I know happens to use too much. That someone also said that what matters is what we do the other 364 days of the year, because voting takes 5 minutes (or 5 hours, depending on your geographic location) out of your day, and then we got the rest of our lives to act (or not).

I have received so many emails in the last 24 hours from friends and random folks I must be cosmically connected to, that wrote emails, blog entries, poems and little snippets of truth beautiful, eloquent, and incredibly inspiring forms. The words, aside from actually igniting some petty jealousy in my choosy-heart that is always aspiring to become one of those people who says that “writing just comes easily to me,” moved and challenged me deeply. Your words have pushed me not just to write this mediocre, unfocused post-Obama bandwagon banter you are currently trudging through, but to keep writing and dialoguing about these issues that are layered in ways I’m only starting to uncover, thanks to your probing eyes. I am grateful to you, who constantly push me, and in turn all of us, to be resilient, open warriors and artists who are forgiving in all the ways I still must learn because you are firm in your ideologies, but more than that you believe in the human capacity to change. Maybe you’re saying, “Who is this ‘you’ Dalia is talking about? Is she about to get all vague and hippy-dippy and pull the s-word (society) out on our asses too?” But I am talking to you, to anyone who found one reason to be grateful today, to be giddy, to thoughtfully offer criticism and worry not without hope and care, to believe in the possibility of our coalescing spirits while remaining rooted in the knowledge we gain, and have gathered since birth, everyday through our lived experiences.

In closing, I will speak directly to my birth-state: Oh, California. Above all, you are the momentous proof of the work to be done that anyone who maintained their semi-melted brain throughout Obamania constantly references. California, you are my strongest witness to another world being possible (The Bay), and to the fact that this process building our many other worlds is neither pure nor linear.

But the joy and the connection I felt last night to others, as I have on countless other unsung days and nights, including with many of you at rallies, marches, in kitchens, backyards, backseats of old Volvos and on the street, was real. It confirms that we will continue as strong people, regardless of charismatic leaders who claim to guide us toward change or fundamentalist propositions that threaten our identities. We have been, and can only continue, to do good work every day of the year. If anything, the first Tuesday in November this year allowed me a space to acknowledge all of the beauty I have been fortunate enough to participate in or hear about through those I love, and I can only hope it offered the same for you.

Lastly, let us not forget that it is not just easy, but crucial towards our acceptance and celebration of our own humanity–of that need to connect to and with others, to believe in our capacity to change, to become a part of an energy, a movement that is larger than the self and the truest testament to our belief and action toward real transformation–it becomes more than a mere need, to rejoice. Our survival is contingent upon our ability and the opportunities there are to express joy.

I pray for more in all of our lives.

love and pieces,

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