In June of 1973 early one morning before daybreak, the door to the apartment where I was staying was blown inwards by a pneumatic battering ram, and what looked like 100’s (but was more like 15 or 20) helmeted, shielded, automatic weapons carrying men burst in on me, where I was asleep, naked in the hot summer heat of an un-air-conditioned apartment on New York’s upper West Side. Startled, terrified, but unnaturally cool as my life flashed before my eyes I calmly stood up – naked as a jay bird and said in a clear unwavering voice "Well officers, I am obviously not hiding any weapons between my legs so could you please hand me my panties and lower those guns".
Much to my amazement I didn’t die and behind the Plexiglas shields several of the men started to blush, and sheepishly a young Puerto Rican New York City cop stepped in front of the Fed Swat Team and handed me something to wrap around myself.
Before they could move any further as the weapons lowered – I stated loudly that there were no weapons in my house and the men they were looking for were asleep; one seriously ill, in the next room.
The noise had attracted my neighbors and by that time they were out in the hallways, craning their necks to see what in the heck all the noise was about and two of my dear friends who lived upstairs came flying down the steps creating a loud diversion which made the cops even more uncomfortable.
You see , they were drag queens, and still in full regalia from a night out clubbing they rushed to my defense – Shouting loudly "we got your back sweetie". I shouted quickly – call my lawyer and call my mom. They flirted outrageously with the cops making remarks about their weapons and the size of other weapons they might be hiding. The cops and Feds were now even more disconcerted and confused and the neighbors in the hallway all started to laugh and shout out catcalls, egging my darling Queens on.
These two events – my nakedness and the hasty intervention of two men – derided in the streets as "faggots and punks" (back in the days before political correctness) saved my life, and the lives of my two comrades. They had my back and as I was led away in handcuffs, by this time clothed (thanks to another intervention by that young PR NYC cop), when I reached the outside where the sun was barely beginning to rise – I was hit by the lights of flashbulbs going off – there were reporters outside, one I knew well from years of working with NY area journalists and I repeated quickly to him – call my lawyer. I looked up and saw snipers on the rooftops, the sound of a helicopter whirring away overhead was ominous, and as we sped away, under arrest I realized that the neighborhood had been blocked off as well.
I will not detail the whys and wherefores of all of this – suffice it to say that in time all of the charges leveled at me, and the more serious ones against my 2 brothers were dropped. They spent a long time in jail fighting the trumped up government case against them – and ironically what they were charged with was finally disproved because they had proof that the crime they were accused of committing was one that they could not possibly have committed since the day it took place in NYC they were in jail in Georgia – having been arrested for driving while black – and meeting the description of "male Negros - 5 feet 6 to 5’ll " wanted for a liquor store hold up. They were not the hold-up guys but it proved to be a fortuitous arrest since they could not have been in two places at the same time.
But for a twist of fate we would have been dead. Dead like Fred Hampton – murdered in his bed. Dead like my dear friends who were shot on sight by Federal agents and all of the bullet holes went in their backs, and out the front – giving a lie to stories concocted to call the assassination a "shoot-out"; dead like so many other black men and women in America the police have killed in cold blood. Try to imagine how it feels to have your photo on the dashboard of cop cars roaming the city with orders of "shoot to kill".
I am a lucky woman. Yes I had a brilliant lawyer, and yes, I also had middle class privilege. I got bail – lucky to have a family friend who worked for the Justice Department. Others were not so lucky, they did hard jail time. Those whose luck ran out – died. I have spent much of my adult life attending funerals. The funerals of militants, funerals of neighborhood friends. Funerals of children, killed by stray bullets. Death is a fact of life for me.
The charges leveled against me were backed up by wiretaps. False transcripts of said tapes were brought into court. My life is documented in thousands of pages of government documents which I can’t even afford to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act. I have never been able to use a telephone without considering that the world is probably listening in. The Feds have copies of poems some of us wrote in 2nd or 3rd grade. My apartments have been bugged. An amusing digression – my girlfriend Janet and I live in another West Side apartment and we could leave the house and actually "tune in " on the far end of the radio dial and listen to conversations being held inside our house, where we did layout for a radical newspaper. There was always an unmarked van parked outside on our block – the home base of the buggers. We would wave gaily at the van with its blacked out windows as we would leave and return from our daily shopping. For over a year I didn’t have to pay a phone bill. The Feds were afraid that if we didn’t have a phone they couldn’t listen. I made weekly calls to France and to Algeria at that time. Some days I would make calls and simply lay the phone next to the speakers of the stereo and play new records by the Temptations over the phone – to my dear friends in exile. I hope that Interpol, the Feds, the CIA and other police state agencies enjoyed the music.
I have been taken off of planes and strip searched, on my way to conferences. I am always viewed as suspicious in airports. I fit some profile just because of my skin color. My name makes flags pop up on government computers.
I have never had privacy. My parents had no privacy. I grew up under the persecution of the McCarthy period, and watched family friends driven out of jobs, and some driven to suicide. I watched my father watch the backs of his friends, and I have learned how to be a trooper since the day I could walk. My father’s lessons to me were: give the enemy no comfort, don’t rat out your friends, stay strong and committed to struggle. Keep your eyes on the prize, no matter if they hose you, sic dogs on you, spit on you or kill you. We shall overcome some day.
The Constitution that has been bandied about here in hysterical FISA diaries of outrage in the last few days has very little meaning for me. Oh yes – intellectually it is a nice piece of paper. Much of it was contributed to by the Native Americans of the Iroquois Confederacy , a people who were robbed, displaced, and cast aside by the" Nation of leeches who conquered this land" (I love Buffy Saint Marie – she tells the history many don’t want to hear) in the name of the same Constitution. The privacy that you are so willing to throw Obama under the bus for has no meaning for me. I’ve never had the luxury to have any.
For me – the Constitution might as well be toilet paper. It allowed slavery. It allowed Jim Crow. It allowed women to have no vote. It allowed black people to be cast as not human, not full men. It allowed invasions of tiny Islands like Grenada, Oh yes – it has been "amended from time to time" but where is the amendment for the dead. Can’t fix or patch the lives of those who died because that piece of paper did nothing to save them.
We the people of the United States...in order to form a more perfect Union of some of the people, some of the time ; same shit- different day.
FISA – yeah, unconstitutional. So have all of the actions that have taken place over the years against those of us who are the minorities of America been unconstitutional. Now the majority folks are awake and ready to holler. Your government is out of control. Welcome to my world. Welcome to the world of all those people around the world who have died as a result of United States aggression.
Do I believe in words? No. I believe in actions. Show me. Just as anti-Vietnam War activists who resisted the draft showed me. Just as white people who joined hands with black and brown people in the battle of Civil Rights showed me. Show me that my fellow Americans believe in Justice. Show me how you are gonna get a huge chunk of members of my community out of prison – prisoners of a War on Drugs. Show me that there is a difference between two political parties that dominate this nation.
So folks started to show me. Wary, cynical, tired of struggling to stay outside of the political process that has been my oppressor, and my people’s oppressor for so many long years I listened to some young people who had a glow in their eyes and a song on their lips and they dragged me out of my leftist isolation – they said "look...things are changing ...look... a black man is running for office...look...he is post-racial...look...please join us. It can change, it can be different... and so I looked. I laughed. But I became interested. Maybe they are right. Maybe I am just too old and set in my ways.
I turned to my husband and said, "how long before he is dead too?" We know death. But there are many forms of death. The death of a thousand cuts. The death of his dream to be post racial – because America can’t see him as anything but Black. The death of the idealistic cadre of young hopefuls who think they can fix a broken system that is already gearing up for yet another war in Iran. I sit here and watch the television and hear that his wife is called a Black Panther. He is branded not black enough, too black, elitist, Muslim (and we sit back and allow that to be smear as well).
But the young people said – hold fast. We have his back. We will marshal our forces. We are a mighty Netroots Nation – we have found a way to circumvent the Traditional Media – we will fight and get him elected. We have his back. Come join us. And so cynicism set aside for a few months, I did. Tuned on my computer and joined DailyKos.
I watched as my sister feminists castigated him, as the race card got played against him, and I despaired here openly that some of you seemed to be deaf to dog whistles but I had patience. And many of you had his back. I suffered over at MyDD and almost gave up hope but I retreated here where there were committed troops, and continued to wage a guerrilla war on other sites. Cause we had his back.
I watched as the firestorm began – the Reverend Wright issue surfaced and was looped and looped and many of the mighty Netroots voices quivered and caviled screaming crucify the Rev. – throw him quickly under the bus – there was much wringing of hands and cries for John Edwards or Al Gore, and the trolls surfaced, and yet ...many stayed firm. They began to open their eyes to the foreign phenomena of the Black church – to the militant voice of Rev. Wright and some were even able to sympathize a bit, but as the episode continued everyone breathed a sigh of relief – young Barack would leave his church and all would be better now. We have his back. Let’s paint him a bit whiter – make him more palatable to the Average American – you know, those "white" people. Hard working "white" people.
Let’s give his wife a makeover – she’s a bit too angry and we can’t have that. Since bleaching cream won’t erase her obvious blackness, and "otherness" we’ll forge ahead and let everyone see how perfectly normal she is (even if she is black). I chuckled. Shook my head. She and her husband resemble not one black militant I’ve ever known. Nice people – such ordinary Americans – and the fact that this has to be "sold" is proof that we aren’t as close to change as my young friends believe but I’ll be patient. But somehow people got confused. This Barack Obama was their secret Panther. He would take on the House and the Senate with one hand tied behind his back. He would be the Hero of Heroes. He would be uncompromising in his stance – and he would win! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
Except those young people don’t know history. They haven’t felt the yoke of history. The Constitution was a series of compromises, and black folks got the worst of them. Legislation is a series of compromises. This country is a series of compromises. The young are impatient. It makes them refreshing but it also makes them stupid. They will throw themselves at the barricades and commit revolutionary suicide in the name of purity. They are like Jonathan Jackson. They do not live to fight another day.
Compromises have to be made and change takes many long years and Barack Obama is but one soldier in a long process of change that is slow to come in this land of mine. He reveres that piece of toilet paper. How naïve. How refreshing. How sad. But then he hasn’t lived a life of death. He is not old, but he is learning.
He is not yet tarnished and burdened with memories. And so, it will be us older ones who will have his back. Like mother birds and the baby chicks leave the shelter of their wings we will watch and protect when needed, and ward off danger of invading snakes and predators.
We will watch. I am watching. What do I see? I see a group of self-absorbed keyboard warriors pompously proclaiming their righteous indignation over a bill in Congress. A bill that might let some corporations off the hook. A bill that violates their understanding of a piece of toilet paper. A bill that has no meaning. Laws that have no meaning. A system fatally flawed from its inception that over the years we try to fix – cut and paste – with amendments. Howls of outrage take up bandwidth. Crucify him, crucify him. How dare he......he has failed us – quick ....let us turn our backs. Quick let us cut off his money ...quick let us vomit up the kool aide ...quick let us do the job of the republicans.
We must maintain our principle they rant, brandishing words of scorn. The Constitution they intone in solemnity ...has been violated! To arms...the battle cry....lash Obama...false Obama...Obama – they gasp, "is a(hushed tones) politician!" Oh My!!!
And so they rant on...in diary after diary after diary...and I sit in wonder and wonder – where were you when we were dying? Where are you when were crying? Who among you challenged COINTELPRO? Who fought J Edgar Hoover? Who among you will go to jail for me? Will die for me, will call out the names of the dead killed by that piece of paper you now brandish like a sword to impale your former Hero? Oh how your Champion has fallen and will you banish him from your side of this game called politics? For I see now that for you it is but a game.
I don’t play games. Games are for children. I’m not in a tournament. Tournaments are for athletes and Knights of the Roundtable in fairy tales. I’m in a war – and this is just one battle, one skirmish in a war that has gone on since Christopher Columbus got lost on his way to despoil India. A war that I will not see the end of. A war that requires a patience that transcends death. A war that may determine if any human beings remain alive to carry on the struggle on this planet when I am turned to dust.
But I know my role in that war. I’m an aging foot soldier. I’m a protective grandmother, a woman, a black woman. I don’t forget, and I don’t forgive, but I do my duty and I stand as one among thousands. I say proudly, "Barack. Young man. I got your back." I will fight all and any who have falsely claimed to be a part of this struggle, but turned tail at the sight of the first puff of smoke. I will denounce them as cowards.
So bring it on. But before you do – you tell me what qualifies you to even open your mouth. Give me your name rank and serial number in this war and show me the battles you’ve fought, the scars you’ve earned, tell me the names of your dead, your wounded, those friends and family you have in prison – and just maybe I will listen to you. Or just simply state that you sent a check this week to Barack Obama, and are reporting for duty.
If not – don’t bother to comment. Move on to another diary of masturbation.
I ain’t got no time to waste on you. We got a battle to win.
I’m calling on the troops who got his back.
Who is with me?
UPDATE: Thanks to all who have donated or expressed support.
Please visit Phoenix's Womans diary too:
"It never was America to me."
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