It’s my birthday week! I turn 37 on June 26. A few years ago I started a habit of giving out antifascist reading recommendations & requests in honor of my birthday. This year I want to focus on… antifascist fiction!
These are six amazing fiction books I read this year. For me, in very different ways, each of these works of art spoke to different dimensions of antifascist struggle.
Please note some of these books touched on specific real-world fascist threats that may be very triggering. DM me for content notes or individualized recommendations.
I offer the books here in the order in which I read them this past year…
Join the #AllOutDC mobilization against white nationalism & the alt-right on Saturday, July 6th. Read here for details and follow @AllOutDC for updates.
If you are in or near Boston:
Please prepare to counter-protest the so-called “Straight Pride Parade” called for Saturday, August 31. Read here for details on the organizers’ far-right roots and follow this Facebook event for updates.
SEND ME YOUR PLEDGE BY THE END OF JUNE — AND COMPLETE YOUR COMMITMENT BY THE END OF AUGUST OR SOONER!
Please don’t use “Charlottesville” as a stand-alone word to refer to the white supremacist terrorist attacks of August 11-12.
As in, “ever since Charlottesville,” or “when Charlottesville happened.”
1. You are using the name of an entire city as a euphemism when what you really mean is “THAT WEEKEND WE ALL WATCHED ACTUAL NAZIS ATTACK AND KILL PEOPLE.” Yeah. That weekend. Say what you mean. Say “the Nazi terrorist mob in Charlottesville” or “when Nazis attacked Charlottesville” or “the largest most violent white supremacist rally in a long time.”
2. When you refer to this terrorism simply by using the name of our city, you are telling yourself that it’s just about Charlottesville… but it’s not. It’s also about you. Most of the Nazis who attacked Charlottesville came from other cities, other states. Which ones live near you? Do you know? Do you know which Nazi groups are organizing in your city, in your state? Do you know which of your neighbors came here to attack my neighbors?
3. We’ve been fighting in Charlottesville on a regular basis since the first torch rally on May 13 and long before then too — there have been Nazis with guns and threats and direct confrontations and it still continues every week. When you say “Charlottesville” and really mean “August 11-12” what you are telling me is that you were paying attention when we were all up in the news coverage for a few days, and *you* had a strong reaction to that and got all up in your feelings (which you definitely should, yes, valid, terrifying, infuriating, yes, all those feelings) — AND THEN YOU MOVED ON AND WENT BACK TO NORMAL LIFE. What you’re telling me is that you stopped paying attention to the ongoing struggle in Charlottesville.
Don’t stop. Don’t stop paying attention. Pay attention to Charlottesville. Pay attention to your neighbors too. Even as you are paying attention to the US imperialist neglect of climate crisis damage in Puerto Rico and the St. Louis rebellion in response to police murders of Black people and the threat of a second major Nazi attack aiming for Charlotte, North Carolina. This is all interconnected. The fascist terror continues. The resistance continues, too. #Charlottesville continues.
My beloved Jews, here is my love letter to you this New Year.
I am a WhitequeerfemmeJew in Charlottesville. Although many friends in Boston and NYC thought I had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, by now I hope you’ve heard of Charlottesville. We’re in the mountains of Central Virginia, a small city of 50,000 people, founded by the racist rapist colonizer Thomas Jefferson, with the University of Virginia two miles from downtown.
The Nazis chose Charlottesville. There have been Nazis (with guns) in Charlottesville since long before I got here, harassing Black politicians and intimidating anti-racist protesters and also planning amongst themselves. The friendly liberal White folks who populate this space know who they are — will talk about them and roll their eyes and make fun of them — but it has taken persistent, daring, fierce leadership by anti-fascist and anarchist people of color (primarily women and femmes) to teach Charlottesville how to fight Nazis. Everything I share with you in this piece, I learned from them. Except for the Jewish parts — those I learned from you! And our powers combined, we can do this. I believe that we will win. But first, we have to fight.
1. Trust Black and indigenous liberation leadership.
Find anti-fascist Black and indigenous people who have been doing the work from so many directions to address systems of colonization and anti-Blackness in this country. Believe them when they tell you what to do. Support them with everything you’ve got. One of the most serious mistakes I made this summer was falling into that Whiteness trap of Thinking I Know Best — assuming that I can talk to other White people to figure out what the hell is going on and what my role in all of it is. Here’s a great way to make sure you’re talking through things with and asking questions of and offering support to and really getting to know people who aren’t just White Jews: make Friends. That’s right, I capitalized Friends. People I eat with, drink with, dance with, call, text, visit, hug, appreciate, and ask many questions on a regular basis. It’s irreplaceable. Make friends with anti-fascists who have been confronting, disrupting, and undermining Nazis for years or even decades. You may also hear them called “antifa.” Everything I know from fighting Nazis this summer, I learned from local anti-fascist, anarchist, and anti-racist leadership. This includes Jews of color! There are Black Jews and Latinx Jews and other Jews who face very specific threats to existence and presence in this country. Trust them; build trust with them.
2. Center Black lives.
Jews should be fighting Nazis. And — at the same time — we White-presenting White-privileged Jews need to understand that we are fighting Nazis in the US within the very real context of centuries of anti-Black racism. I have been face to face with Nazis and yes I see the swastikas and I see the anti-semitic signs and I hear the taunts and I respect the fear of the synagogue in downtown Charlottesville — AND please believe me when I say that they are coming for Black people first. It is Black people who the Nazis are seeking out, Black neighborhoods that are being targeted, anti-Black terrorism that is being perpetrated. So. Jews need to be fighting Nazis in this moment. And. At the same time. If we are fighting Nazis expecting them to look like German anti-Semitic prototypes, we will be betraying ourselves and our comrades of color. We need to fight Nazis in the US within the context of US anti-Black racism. We need to be anti-fascist and anti-racist with every breath, with every step. Our anti-fascism must affirm that Black Lives Matter and must support the Movement for Black Lives.
3. No platform for White Supremacy.
Antifa refer to this tactic as “no platforming.” Remember that “freedom of speech” may restrict (somewhat) the actions of the government, but it does not restrict our actions as individuals. The goal of no platforming is to stop the spread of Nazi propaganda. I remember the Hebrew School lessons about how much the German Nazis used media — speeches, posters, propaganda — to fuel anti-Semitism and normalize the escalation of state violence. Do not allow Nazis to make speeches. Do not allow Nazis to have press conferences, radio interviews, and rallies. No dialogue with White Supremacy. No platform.
4. Know your Nazis.
No platforming does NOT mean hide your head in the sand and ignore them. Quite the opposite. We must know who they are. As Charlottesville organizershave already instructed: “Do the research to identify Nazis in your community. Find out who’s doing alt-right or white supremacist agitating, find out where they work, and learn as much as you can about their connections to politicians or police in your town. Use this information to block them from gaining social and political control.”
5. Love each other and protect each other.
After Richard Spencer’s first Charlottesville terrorist torch rally in May, local anarchist people of color hosted a community vigil and had us chant together Assata Shakur’s prayer: “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Loving each other and protecting each other have been core values of the resistance in Charlottesville: community care and community defense. Do folks need food, groceries, a ride, housing? We have to pay attention to and prioritize the most marginalized among us. No one is too much; no one is disposable. These needs are valid. The need for protection is also valid. Community defense — physical defense — is part of this love. We must protect each other from the White Supremacist violence of Nazis and from state violence. Consider bringing a nonviolent direct action training to your community or congregation. And know that antifa saved lives through community defense in Charlottesville on August 12. Saved. Lives. We must protect each other; we must defend our communities.
6. Honor a diversity of tactics.
Again, individuals willing to get physically confrontational saved lives in Charlottesville. We must stop the Nazis. The use of physical confrontation caused some mainstream media outlets to proclaim a false equivalency, which we must refute and refuse. I want to learn more about the legacy of ready to take.
7. Form local coalitions.
Jews should be fighting Nazis, but we do not need to be fighting Nazis alone. Coalition-building is really hard. Maybe folks from Solidarity Cville will write publicly one day about what we did and what we failed to do this summer… coalition conflict led to many hours of me crying on my couch alone… which is not necessarily the most strategic move, in retrospect. Other people were hurt much more than I was. Check out the St. Paul’s Principles of Unity. Make friends with each other. Always have food at meetings. Don’t assume you always need a meeting in order to get things done. Center Black lives. Honor the emotional labor of women and femmes. Mess up, be accountable, reconnect, and try again. We are in this together.
8. Demand organizational leadership.
We need courageous Jewish leadership to spearhead a Jewish response to the rising reality of Nazi violence and the threat of American fascism. I called six national Jewish organizations in July, begging for help fighting Nazis in Charlottesville. I got mixed responses; no one seemed to know whose responsibility it was to lead this work. Shout out to T’ruah and If Not Now for your statements of solidarity, and for showing up on August 12. We need many different forms of leadership in this moment. We also need the core Jewish movements themselves — looking at you, URJ and USCJ — to declare resistance to White Supremacy, paving the way for congregational rabbis to do the same. National leadership supports local leadership, and vice versa.
9. Mobilize rapid response.
Support communities facing crisis. When you’re called for help, take it seriously and figure out how to give it. Having better prepared national Jewish leadership will help with this — particularly by having one (or several) Jewish organizations committed to sending people, educational materials, and money to communities under attack. And by “communities” I mean not just Jewish communities — Black predominantly Christian communities, Muslim communities, and entire city communities like Charlottesville. The best way to help is to go there in person. Send money, declare solidarity, signal boost. Build up the skills and resources within your congregation or, even better, within your local coalition so that you are ready to go when needed.
10. Refuse to normalize.
This. Is. Not. Normal. Never let it be normal. I am not trying to “get back to normal” after August 12. Also? Refuse to normalize White Supremacy in retrospect. Don’t romanticize the Obama era, when deportations and police brutality and mass incarceration continued to escalate. That all wasn’t normal either, and it was never okay. Don’t normalize fascism and don’t normalize racism, even the parts that have been here all along.
What does this have to do with the High Holidays?
I call on Jewish leadership — clergy and lay leaders — to apply the ten steps above to the traditions of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Days of Awe. Use the High Holidays to prepare for a year of fighting Nazis.
Our resistance must start with repentance. Only through acknowledgement and accountability can we strive for reparations. With rituals such as tashlictand al chet, we can reflect on how we even got to this place, what our own complicity in White Supremacy has been, and how we have or have not been showing up for people whose bodies are on the line.
And then comes actual interpersonal apologies and accountability. This time, I need you all to get specific. Who have you harmed, through racism, sexism, or unjust criticism? Who have you turned away in their moment of need? We need each other. We must bind together even as we challenge each other to do way better. We need honest conversations that build closeness and community. We are in it together. Get involved.
Finally, to truly show up for each other and persist in resistance, we must embrace a sweet new year. Fighting Nazis makes me sick. I remember when I started feeling sick in May, after just a few weeks of shouting at Nazis in the streets. Physically ill and shaking and angry and scared. We are confronting rather than avoiding the grossness of the world. So seek out moments of sweetness, be all-out affectionate with your comrades and community members, and wish each other joy in whatever ways feel possible.
Because we must fight. We don’t fight for fun; we don’t fight for joy. We fight for love and freedom and liberation. We fight because we are Jews. Jews fight Nazis.
However you get your news, I hope you came across the Mama’s Day Bail Out action. It was covered here and here and here and here and more here. It happened in Atlanta and Durham and Brooklyn and Los Angeles and beyond. It started with the leadership of Mary Hooks, a Black lesbian who is the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), organizing LGBTQ folks in the South across race and class lines. SONG is also a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, a collective of over 50 organizations, several of whom responded to SONG’s call to #FreeBlackMamas. The call was to bail out Black mamas – lesbian, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming caregivers and mothers who may not have given birth – who would otherwise be in a cell because of their inability to afford and pay bail. Over 100 Black mamas were bailed out, welcomed home, and connected to community resources by Mother’s Day, thanks to organizing efforts across the United States.
Money bail is a practice in which people who are arrested are held in jail unless they can pay a set amount of money, just how much money ranges enormously, and $100 or $100,000 can each be prohibitive for different people in different situations. An average of 700,000 people per day are encaged before trial solely because they cannot pay the amount set for them by the court. And even people who post bail often do so through for-profit bail bond companies, who charge a fee, which means less cash up front but losing the right to get that money back at trial. This is the racialized criminalization and exploitation of poverty. Pre-trial incarceration has catastrophic human impacts.
There are so many thoughts, feelings, and stories I could share about this action, but three things in particular I want to highlight in the context of SRA.
First: freeing Black mamas is directly related to the thriving of Black adolescents. The system of money bail keeps caretakers from their families and communities, puts mothers at risk of losing their jobs or their housing or having their children sent to foster care, causes additional harm and trauma for the person incarcerated, and offers young people a world in which a person without access to cash is denied innocence and can be held in jail before trial, before being convicted of any criminalized activity. The racist system of criminalization and incarceration attacks individuals, families, communities daily. Many people have said this and said it better than I can. Listen to Black women. Listen to Black youth. Learn about the impact of systematic criminalization and incarceration, and about money bail practices in particular.
Second: what really moves me about this action is its URGENCY and its specificity. As researchers, we play the long game. We invest years of time and resources in grant writing, background reading, data collection, data analysis, paper writing, peer review, and publication… and then barely leave time for translation, dissemination, and application. What the Mama’s Day Bail Out did was address the urgent needs of specific people right now. AND it was organized in such a way as to strategically magnify long-game organizing efforts to end money bail and confront the mass incarceration of Black people.
I want to urge you to action, and I also want to urge you to act with care. Particularly for my fellow White researchers, we rarely (if ever) are going to know how to appropriately and effectively respond to the atrocities of historic and contemporary White supremacist systems. So here’s takeaway number three: Build relationships and invest in community organizing that is led by and accountable to People of Color. Keep your eyes on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table – know their platform and know the organizations involved. Know the folks who are doing the work in your communities. Build trust, and see what they need. And remember that, as a White person, whether I’m an academic or an activist or a friend or whatever support roles I’m able to play, my opinion on how Black women are working to free themselves and each other is not important. So if you are ready to take action, with care, and ready to see what Black women and mamas and families need from you, then listen. When people tell you what they need, believe them, and do what they say.
I bring you back to the words of Mary Hooks, SONG Co-Director: “Our vision of prison abolition, our vision of a world where people can have dignity and safety and no cages and no prisons, now seems a hundred years away. Even further away. Our people need hope right now. It’s also a way for our people who have realized that we’re in a long, long trajectory of struggle for liberation to embody our vision of the world we’re trying to create right now.”
We are taught to tell the story of Passover as if each of us individually were enslaved in Egypt, and each of us individually were liberated. In that way, the work of dismantling white supremacy calls on each of us to realize we are personally implicated. It is not enough to agree with the idea of equality. Judaism consistently asks us to go beyond beliefs into action. Tonight, we ask ourselves about our own actions—and we also ask the friends, family and community gathered together at the seder about our collective actions. Situated within the racial history and racial hierarchy of the U.S., we start with questions about anti-black racism.
1. What are we doing to pursue the Movement for Black Lives platform?
The good news about doing anti-racist actions in the U.S. is that we don’t have to guess about what needs to be done. The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against black people and communities. The platform is divided into six sets of demands: end the war on black people; reparations; invest-divest; economic justice; community control; and political power. Each specific demand includes local, state and federal policy recommendations. Where do you have influence? What can you do to ensure that we, collectively, meet these demands?
2. What are we doing to support black trans women?
Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen are seven transgender women of color known to have been murdered this year alone (by the time we are writing this in March 2017). Five of them were black. And there are countless more black trans women who are still alive. What are you doing to support them? They are creating beautiful art and running amazing advocacy organizations and building fiercely loving relationships and need money and jobs and housing and health care and need to not be killed by acts of racist-transmisogynist violence. They need to not be dehumanized. Trans women are women and black trans lives matter.
3. What are we doing to follow the leadership of black women and femmes?
Trust black women. This includes black trans women. This includes black femmes, as in people who embody femininity, feminine expression and/or femme identity. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—three black women. Tamika Mallory is a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. Ayanna Pressley has served on the Boston City Council since 2009. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Angela Davis. So many more. Listen when they speak, take in their words and push yourself to do what they are asking of you. When was the last time you did something that black women asked you to do? What are the black women in your community asking you to do? What are Jewish black women asking you to do?
Good news again—there is still plenty of guidance out there, in this case particularly for white folks trying to answer the above questions. Check this out, by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, two black women activists: “Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Box memberships are a way to not only financially support black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” Money raised from monthly subscriptions goes to individual black women and femmes working for black liberation. How can white people step into the roles black people are asking us to fill? What would it take for you to sign up for Safety Pin Box?
4. What are we ready to risk?
Ava DuVernay (another brilliant black woman) in her documentary “13th” highlights that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, “except as punishment for a crime.” As we tell the story of our own liberation from slavery, we see too that mass incarceration is slavery, and it is racial violence. Police brutality, vigilante murders and the criminalization of protests, immigration and addiction are all part of this system of abuse and control. When we say “Never again,” how can we mean it if it’s happening right now? Race-based violence is so deeply woven into our social structures that we need to deeply change our social structures in order to end race-based violence. That means now. That means urgently.
What will you put on the line to demand these changes? How much time, energy and money will you contribute? Are you willing to risk relationships to call people out on racism? Are you willing to risk your reputation within your field or workplace? For white folks, are you willing to risk the layers of safety that come with whiteness? Supporting black people means risking all that comes with the whiteness status that Ashkenazi Jews have gained. It means using power and privilege to advance goals perhaps alien to your own. What does whiteness mean to you, how does it shape your life and what will it take to leverage its power? Are you willing to risk your body by showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest? Are you willing to risk your own individual life goals? What will it look like for you to make racial justice a priority?
We have this narrative. This narrative brings through many aspects of Jewish history, not just Purim. This is the narrative: They tried to kill us; we survived; let’s eat.
First of all, not all of us survived. We survived as a people—there remained such a thing as “Jews”—but not all our people made it through. In the Purim story, we had to fight back, and there was a battle.
Now, people are already not making it through. Many are claiming, “We will survive the Trump administration,” and that’s just not necessarily true…not for all of us.
Let’s examine this hope of survival. When we celebrate Purim, we spin the narrative that we survived because Esther revealed herself. Because there was someone on the inside, someone well positioned to directly influence the people in power, who was one of us, and took the risk of coming out and speaking up.
We survived because Esther revealed herself.
But what if there is no Esther?
We’re told to talk to our relatives who voted for Trump. We don’t have any relatives who voted for Trump. Do you? Are you talking to your relatives?
Are you Esther?
But Esther would talk directly to Trump.
Who is talking to Trump?
Bannon. Bannon is talking to Trump. So there’s certainly a Haman in the White House.
What if there is no Esther?
What is the false comfort we draw from the Purim narrative? That there is always someone in the inner circle who will risk their life to stop evil. That there is someone on the inside who is actually on our side.
Have you had that fantasy? That they will all retire, strike, come out…stop this?
Maybe you were looking to Clinton or Obama or Sanders or Warren or McCain or Romney to stop it cold, to not let him take power. Maybe you were looking to the Electoral College. Maybe you got excited about the rogue NASA Twitter account and the rogue White House staff account and thought maybe, maybe they will throw a wrench in it and undermine the whole operation.
There is no one on the inside who is magically going to get us out of this.
Second, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and investing in our own capacity to take risks. The risk to speak, the risk to fight, the risk to feel. Community organizing, mass mobilizing, protest. These risks will be different and look different for white Jews and for Jews of color. Talk to people you love about what your line is, and what you’re going to do when it gets crossed. Also, it’s probably been crossed already.
Third, it will take divesting from the Esther fantasy and not waiting for permission to fight. Know what you’re fighting for, though. Remember that when we say, “We survived,” we mean that there is still a Jewish community in existence, but “we” did not all survive. And even beyond that, when we say, “Never again,” do we mean only to Jews? It is happening…again…or still…right now…and not everyone is surviving.
And if there is no Esther, if there is no singular primary shero, we need all of us to be in it together as deeply and broadly as possible. We need to be fighting a heck of a lot harder than we are right now.
The speakers at the Women’s March on Washington called clearly for intersectional movement building. Following the leadership of Women of Color is not an abstract directive. Here are 25 Black Women and Black queer people whose work I will read, watch, listen to, respond to, and be accountable to:
I march to undermine White Supremacy and support the Movement for Black Lives. I march as a queer femme and as a Jew and as a survivor and as a White person committed to anti-racist work with other White people, in solidarity with People of Color. I march for health insurance and public schools and trans rights. I march to end rape culture, to end sexual assault, and to end other forms of gender-based violence. I march to build caring relationships. I march for unapologetic intersectional progressive movements in which we are all indispensable. I march because I am indispensable. Because if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.
I hope you feel shame. I hope you could not sleep last night. I hope you stayed awake wondering why you shut down citizens who were telling you to your face that you are failing them. I hope you are struggling to regain the humanity that you have lost. Because by dehumanizing other people, you dehumanize yourself. I was dehumanized by just sitting in the City Council meeting, too. Now I am struggling to regain my humanity. Now I can’t sleep.
I lost my humanity in the name of decorum. I wanted to shout across the room to you – “ending racism will require ending business as usual.” Because it will. And you, last night, were all about business. The business of the City Council. The business of maintaining decorum. The business of hiring consultants to design a bigger, bolder monument, as if to compete with the structural racism perpetrated by the statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee.
Structural racism: racism perpetrated by the very structure of the city. Listen. Listen to how upset people are. Listen to how much it matters. Every day Black people in Charlottesville live their lives in a city that is complicit with their dehumanization. You know it, and I know it, and it’s on us to do something to change it.
I am a White person. When I moved here, the pattern was clear: Other White people told me how much they loved Charlottesville and how much they wanted everyone else to love it, too. People of Color I talked to, Black friends and colleagues, told a different story.
That park matters. The psychological toxicity of racism – minority stress and trauma – impacts everything from academic engagement to physical health to simply feeling okay as a person.
That statue is dehumanizing. Just as slavery is dehumanizing. Just as a registry and a wall would be dehumanizing. (I could go on.)
When you are complicit in dehumanizing Black people, your own humanity is compromised. That’s why I hope you can’t sleep. I hope you are mourning the loss of your own humanity and struggling to get it back. You can get it back! But you’ve got to try really hard, in ways you’ve never tried before. And it’s got to mean an end to business as usual.
Black lives matter.
Remove the statue.
Or step down and have Wes Bellamy lead instead, if you’d rather grasp at rhetorical unity than take real risks in pursuit of justice.