Sunday, January 30, 2005

Peace Vigil Notes #3

I didn't speak on Friday night. In the pot-luck meeting following the vigil, I mean. I chatted with people at the vigil and during the ride to where the meeting was being held (a house that, many years ago, and in conjunction with its long-time activist owner, once hosted Martin Luther King) and in the pot-lucky preamble, but in the meeting itself I held my silence. It's only the second such gathering in the many months I've been going to the vigil and it's not the country in which I grew up, so I still feel a little bit like an outsider, but I didn't feel actively silenced or anything; I just didn't choose to speak.

When they're not boring and ritualistic, activist meetings can feel overwhelming. Every statement made can trigger a dozen lines of processing inside me, body and mind, and it can be enough work just to keep up with that, never mind coming up with things to say myself. Every statement carries in it little hooks that connect to larger narratives and pull them, or at least parts of them, into the room. Through its content and the identities of the speakers, every statement holds the potential to illuminate and fill out little bits of the matrices of race and class and gender and sexuality and ability -- power and privilege -- in the room, in the community, in the world. Dominant media themes, political traditions, historical narratives all get pulled in. Every statement reveals (more than most people realize, I think) a bit about who the speaker is -- if you listen, there are echoes or even loud trumpets of ego and values and past traumas and other manifestations of self. Even to an outsider, hints of group history and past internal conflicts and personality clashes reverberate through the room.

The focus of the meeting was the proposed move to a different corner within the neighbourhood. The vigil has been at this site for nearly two years and someone suggested that a move would be useful. The specifics of the move are that we would be leaving a corner that is embedded in the middle of the more affluent, mostly white, mostly liberal (the ongoing harassment by one thrower of eggs notwithstanding) section of the neighbourhood to one that is an easy walk away and still technically part of the same neighbourhood, that is on a larger road with more auto and pedestrian traffic, and that is in an area that is much more Latino/a and working-class. This last appeared to be both part of the original motivation for the suggestion (under the rubric of "diversity") and a source of concern for some.

I don't think I'll talk about the details of the deliberations, except to note that it is always interesting how race and class are present in the conversation when those of us with progressive politics and privilege in one or both of those areas come together to talk politics -- always present, lurking, avoided and discussed at the same time, source of reflexive awkwardness that everyone pretends not to see, focus and blindspot, communicated through pauses and euphemism, and occasionally made visible in a naked shock like a swear word to which no one quite nows how to respond. It's not always that bad, of course, but in a group with no explicit, common understanding or what class and racial differences mean and why they matter (or don't) that is often how it feels. Anyway, a trial move was agreed to, starting in March and with plenty of preparation in the meantime. I agreed with that decision as of the end of the meeting but I am feeling more dubious about it now. It shall be an interesting process, in any case.

Last of the evening: She is one of only three of us present who is younger than middle-age. She wanted to share open-ended thoughts and questions on the movement in a bleak time. In responding to her musings on new tactics and her vague plea for the peace movement to rethink things, I think those of us assembled missed the point -- not the point as she explicitly presented it, perhaps, but the import of the core of her words. The essence of what she was communicating, as far as I could tell, was the pain of passionate struggle defeated and defeated and defeated again. I'm not sure how that could've been adequately addressed in that context; perhaps it couldn't. But I think it's significant that even if you remove the issue from that specific context, social movements don't usually have good ways of explicitly and collectively dealing with that pain.

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