Katherine Toukhy, Create Change Fellow, submitted this blog post during her recent travels to Cairo and Beirut. Read on for her thoughts connecting the response to police violence in Ferguson, the crisis in Gaza, and the struggle for environmental justice both locally and globally:
“she gathers clippings plants shrapnel/ scraps of sense floral fragile damaged/ wild eyed terrified girl is running/ searching for living room/ ringing bells for ghosts to follow” (Suheir Hammad)
There is definitely a feeling of urgency this summer. My summer has been caught in the barrage of daily news reports from the Middle East about ongoing unrest and war, particularly the crisis in Gaza. But the urgency is not a feeling only for seemingly remote places and people, but for the people in my neighborhood and this country. It seems there is no shortage of stories on gun violence, and more chillingly, military violence both here and abroad. It’s not hard to see the connections, considering our nation was founded on the genocide of Native American peoples and built on the backs of African slaves, and is now being maintained by illegal cheap immigrant labor. These are the same groups that some in our nation would like to vilify today in order to somehow justify the use of military artillery in the suppression of the riots in Ferguson, for example.
A few weeks ago, I had this nightmare:
a giant black steel army tank came through a Brooklyn playground. The only human trace was the driver’s nubby black head sticking out from the top. This tank extended heavy mechanical claws to pick up an entire brick school building in front of us. It was filled with young people—black and brown—lined against the windows, their backs turned to us. The mechanical arms slammed the entire building Up and Down, Up and Down… Then bodies inside started to break and shatter. And we, outside, were frozen with terror.
Naturally, my mind’s been caught up in it all. Against this political backdrop, I have been making a lot of art. My own, and with others, including teenagers I teach and four other brilliant souls, who are part of a fellowship I am doing with The Laundromat Project. We are working together to create a community art event in Harlem for September. After spending time in Harlem and being particularly inspired by the work of Brotherhood Sister Sol, our group decided to align our efforts with people in Harlem already creating and organizing around the nationwide Peoples Climate March on September 21.
But what does climate justice have to do with military and police violence? The answers might be clear to some, and I think others have more insight than me. But for me, thinking about climate justice means coming to think about environmental justice as a whole. What kind of justice is there in a local or global society where someone is cleaning up the body of even one unarmed son shot and killed by the police six times, or the bodies of two thousand, including unarmed mothers, sons, and daughters, bombed to pieces?
“I don’t want to think of who will go out on her hands and knees to scrub what’s left of the boy’s blood from the concrete. It will probably be a loved one, her hands idle after hours of clenching them into fists, watching what used to be her breathing boy lie lifeless, as she waited and waited and waited for the police and the coroner and the county to get their stories straight and their shit together and their privilege, sitting crooked as a ten-dollar wig, readjusted till it was firmly intact.”
Whose stories is this society working overtime to keep intact? And who works in the service of keeping these grand narratives intact?
I have been seeing more and more police on the streets in Brooklyn. Spending time in Harlem, another rapidly gentrifying area of the city, we have heard many stories mirroring the situation and power dynamic in Ferguson.
Many of us know there are other stories being told. They are bubbling fast now to the surface. For me, environmental justice starts with the telling and sharing and linking of these stories that connect Harlem to Ferguson to Gaza, from the ground up.
There are always great efforts made to keep those stories separate and hidden. But whatever is forced into hiding burns, if it’s not burned up first.
“Who does violence turn into / her heart is crater analysis/ a body of proof disregarded / balance of a world off axis / beauty molting steel/ a girl a flame consuming”
Suheir Hammad, “Exploding Time,”
Image and text by Katherine Toukhy, 2014 Create Change Fellow.