5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

To the fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville: Thank you, I love you, and please take care of each other

The Rivanna River in Charlottesville

Here are some words I shared at a beautifully generous birthday/goodbye gathering that my dear friend G hosted during my last week in Cville. Thank you again to the people who were able to come to that gathering, and also to everyone who wasn’t there, I hope you know that these words are for you, too.

I never expected to fall in love with Charlottesville, and then I did.

I came to Charlottesville two years ago from Boston via New York City, very excited about my new goal of having no more than five friends. I wanted no more than five friends so I could actually see my friends multiple times a week. I couldn’t imagine a world in which I could have loads of friends and STILL actually see many of them multiple times a week.

I also came to Charlottesville with the plan to stay out of local organizing because I’d be here  for just a year or two. It was the inauguration scared me into action. Several times in January I almost packed a backpack to get on a bus back to New York City. Living alone in a small Southern city where I knew a few of my coworkers and no one else — I didn’t feel safe and I definitely didn’t feel effective in keeping anyone else safe. I thought, if something happens, or as things continue to escalate, I need to know people. I need to know the people who are ready to respond.

And then, of course, I found you. I’m deeply grateful to have found you, to have been with you as things happened and kept happening and kept escalating, and to get to know you and be a friend to you to the best of my ability.

N, thank you for bringing me here. D, D, L, G, B, L, J, A, and so many others – thank you for getting me through. Jalane, I love you, thank you for bringing your full self into my life. M and I, thank you for hanging out with me, and please remember that you have a team of people near and far ready to rally for whatever you need, and I am one of those people.

And, to all of you, thank you:

  • Thank you for being my friends.
  • Thank you for caring about me.
  • Thank you for letting me care about you.
  • Thank you for letting me fight with you.
  • Thank you for your labor and your leadership.

Now, I’m also going to ask you for some favors. Five requests, if you will.

  1. Please take care of each other: Check in on each other. Thank each other. Feed, nourish, and affirm each other. Hug each other, when you have consent.
  2. Please talk to each other: About your feelings, your needs, your plans, and your story.
  3. Please tell your story: Find agency in the process of framing what’s happening here in your own way. Tell the world as much as you can. Get trained to interview with reporters, or send your thoughts to the Solidarity Cville blog (just, you know, as two examples).
  4. Please ask for help when you need it: Even if that’s multiple times a day. Ask as specifically as you can. Ask as many people as you can. Ask someone to help you ask for help. Individually and collectively. For your personal life or for your community or something else. Please ask. It’s so important and it can be so hard.
  5. Please tell the people you love that you love them. I wish I’d done more of that here.

On that note, I have moved cities before, and I know how it can go. We grow apart as we are in touch less and less. I won’t get to see you every week, but I will still hold you in my heart as my friends. Please remember:

  • I love you and I believe in you.
  • I want to hear from you.
  • I want to know what’s going on, anything you want to tell me.
  • I want to be helpful to you — I want to hear your requests for help even if you don’t have the bandwidth to catch up, so please text me or ask for a phone call. I want to know what resources I can leverage from afar to be actually helpful to you, and I want to make time to talk to you.

As I wrap up, I am going to offer an apology. Or at least the beginning of it.

I’m sorry for the messed up things I did while here, and I’m sorry for embedding myself in this community and then walking away. I may not owe you this apology but in my corner of the Jewish world we have a valued practice of giving proactive apologies and I know I harmed people here with my words or actions or silence or inaction, and I’m sorry.

If you want a more specific apology from me at any point, please tell me. I’m here to listen to what you want me to know, and I’m here to acknowledge my errors and be accountable in ways that I can. I care about my impact on you and on this community. I care about you.

I leave you with gratitude for the blessings of friendship you’ve given me. May your friendships with each other and the ways in which you take care of each other become ever stronger.

Thank you, fierce freedom fighters of Charlottesville. I love you, and I am forever indebted to you.

 

9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy), Charlottesville

What you’re doing when you simply call it “Charlottesville”

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.

Join us.

9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy), Charlottesville

Dear Jews: This year, we fight Nazis. Here’s how.

This year, we fight Nazis.

We don’t do it because it’s fun. We don’t do it because it makes us money, or even builds our credentials. We don’t do it for networking.

We do it out of love, we do it because it is a moral imperative, and we do it for survival.

My beloved Jews, here is my love letter to you this New Year.

I am a White queer femme Jew 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.

Here’s how.

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 personSend moneydeclare solidaritysignal 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.

Front lines of the Charlottesville March for Community Defense Against All Fascism, June 3 2017.

Cross-posted on Jewschool, Jewish Boston, and Medium.

5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

The Risk of Not-Knowing

I’m at that point again where I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m screaming for help but I’m probably not. And there are people I love who I am so much more worried about than I am about myself, and there are communities in peril and there is so much pressure to continue with business as usual and I can’t seem to continue with business as usual and I also can’t seem to fully figure out how to not. How to just not. I don’t know.

Today is the third anniversary of #concussion2014, and I marked it in my calendar to remind myself of this random, out-of-nowhere injury. What’s striking for me as I reflect this year is that I wasn’t even choosing to take a risk.

I spend a lot of my time talking about risk, the importance of choosing risk, and the ways in which we can negotiate risk. In sexual activity, in friendships, in activism. We have many opportunities to step into risk and to manage risks for ourselves and each other.

But I wasn’t taking any particular risks that day. I was simply pursuing pleasure – I was taking risks only insofar as daily life is risky. Or, in the way that daily life used to be risky. Until this year, as my life in 2017 laughs at my life in 2014. As I sit inside my apartment in Charlottesville still wondering about the risks of walking alone to the grocery store, still wondering about being recognized by white supremacists or confronted or followed home. But then, why hold myself back from the simple pleasures of life now, just because I am aware of the presence of risk right now, when even back in 2014 I incurred severe consequences for everyday activity without being prepared for risk at all?

I was just swimming in a pond. Not swimming alone. Not swimming at night. Not swimming under the influence. Just swimming. Then an unleashed dog jumped off the dock and landed on my head. Boom. Concussion. Two months medical leave.

Most of the other traumas I had incurred up to that point were in the context of something I already knew to be risky: being alone in a room with a heterosexual boy/man. I had made those choices. I was not to blame for what happened in those rooms, but I knew there were risks, just as I now know there are risks in walking alone in Charlottesville. Even if I feel strongly that neither risk is just – it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone in a room with a man who claims to love me, and it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone on the streets of a city who claims to care. But I know the injustice, and I know the risk, and I get to make choices within those contexts.

I don’t know. It just sucks. I think I’m writing about it now because I am trying to get myself to leave my apartment to go get groceries. Or I’m writing about it now because trauma triggers trauma, and my head hurts. Or because when I’m on edge and angry and ready to yell at people, I find myself wanting to yell at people who are in public places with their dogs off leash. Yelling at those people is quite socially unacceptable, particularly in Charlottesville. Even when directed at entitled white men. I really want to, though.

I don’t know. It just sucks. Maybe some things just suck.

5. Connection/ Community, Charlottesville

Summer

This feels like dying
and being born
in the same moment.

This feels like everything
I’ve been preparing for
and nothing I’ve ever imagined.

This feels like love
deeper than I knew I was capable of
and hate stronger than anyone should ever have to bear.

This feels like an urgent crisis
that’s been stirring for centuries,
and a whisper of truth
defined by lies.

This feels like it’s not my contradiction to name
though I cannot remain silent,
and like I’m filled with doubt
while my conviction carries on.

This feels like pain,
deep pain,
screaming in anguish,
with the promise
of building
deep love with which to thrive.

This feels like something I need you to know,
but it is dangerous to explain.
This feels like something you could help with,
but you have other things to do.

This feels like the most crucial thing
and a major distraction.
This feels like an intentional choice
and a sharp left turn.

This feels like everything is on the line,
and maybe that’s the point.
This feels like it could work,
and I can help, so I do.

This feels like leveraging privilege
and losing so much,
like I can’t turn back now
– I won’t up and leave.

This feels far beyond me
and completely personal.
This feels real,
and I’m here,
and I’m in it,
and I’ll stay.

9. Racial Justice (Smash White Supremacy), Charlottesville

Remove the Statue: The Struggle to Regain Lost Humanity

Dear Mayor Signer;

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.

Here to help if I can.
Sincerely,
Mimi Arbeit

I sent this letter to the Charlottesville Mayor, Mike Signer, after attending the January 17th City Council meeting. From about 9-11:30pm, the meeting focused on The Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. The room was filled with people asking for the removal of the Confederate Robert E. Lee statue and the renaming of Lee Park; the demands were denied.