‘Rebellious Mourning’ Essay Collection Puts Pain in Resistance

An orange jester was elected president, and with new urgency everyone said to themselves, “Don’t cry, organize yourself,” a phrase often attributed to Industrial Workers of the World activist and songwriter Joe Hill. , who would have said so before being executed by the state of Utah in 1915. That’s right; there is always work to be done. But sometimes you have to make room for grieving, relying on the motivating, irritating, and empty manifestations of grief at the same time.

“Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief,” a 24-piece anthology by various authors (many of whom are also activists), edited by writer and anarchist activist Cindy Milstein, takes these notions and separates them, claiming that grieving and organization can become intertwined. This collection was born out of personal pain, which is “inseparable from the pain of this world” as Milstein writes in the prologue. Too often we are supposed to hide the pain, an expectation Milstein calls “a lie made up to hide and maintain the social order that produces our many unnecessary losses.” Rather, when we open ourselves to the bonds of loss and pain, we diminish what weakens us; we reaffirm life and its beauty.

And so, in the opening essay, “Feeling is Not a Weakness: About Grief and Movement,” writer Benji Hart makes room for vulnerability and mourning in the fight for racial justice. – it is, of course, natural to feel hurt in the middle of it, they write: “[Experiencing hurt] shows that I did not give in, that I did not accept the current violent reality as inevitable, that I did not lose the belief in my own right to life.

The subjects of the book’s essays chain and flip to each other, creating a cathartic, vital and heavy conversation as she grapples with uncomfortable truths. After Hart, Claudia Rankine’s “The Condition of Black Life Is Mourning” examines the deaths of Emmett Till, Michael Brown, the six black women and the three black men killed by Dylann Roof at the Methodist Church African Emanuel in 2015, the four black girls killed in the 16e Bombing of the Baptist Street Church in 1963, and others, noting the dangerous ways in which “the white imagination” views blacks (“black bodies”), historically and today, “as property and by following three-fifths humans ”.

Rankine also considers the body as “proof”: Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to have an open casket service, a public / collective call for mourning and a testimony of what had been done to her son Emmett; Michael Brown’s body sat in the streets for hours after his assassination, and in the sense that his own mother “was denied a mother’s rights, a sad fact reminiscent of times before. the civil war, when as a slave she would have had no legal rights over her offspring.

White supremacy has encoded a certain serious anxiety into the lives of black Americans that cannot simply be brushed aside, neutralized or depoliticized – it is, clearly demonstrated, still extant. “It’s the lack of feelings for the other that is our problem,” Rankine writes.

Moments like this that live in a hollow of seemingly endless pain or inconclusive reality move in waves in most essays, with rousing, unifying, sometimes enraged ridges. In “Dust of the Desert,” Lee Sandusky writes about his direct aid work in the harsh, hot Sonoran Desert through which people attempt to cross from Mexico to the United States. Sometimes people die in transit through this desert, and sometimes their bodies are never found, so their families are not closed.

“Border work aims to end the death of those crossing – a task that is currently insurmountable – and much of the action we take is in response to grief, but also anger and hope; all three are inseparable motivations that support organization and action within our community, ”she writes. The stories of those who survived also help them continue.

Kevin Yuen Kit Lo’s sort of meta-essay “Fragments Toward a Whole” addresses the personal ramifications of the trauma, uncovering both the source of his pent-up pain (he was sexually assaulted several times as a child) and the pain. to relive it essentially by writing about it for this project, as notes sent to Milstein, the editor: “It was a difficult text to write, and I had lost my momentum for a while. But the darkness and the movement seem to be pushing me towards some kind of end, if not some kind of real conclusion. “

Three pieces, one after the other, turn the issue of AIDS around like a jewel. Sarah Schulman’s “Gentrification of AIDS”, taken from her book “Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination,” draws sharp and complex links to the epidemic and the rapid gentrification of cities in the midst of this one. (Also, how the gravity of this battle has been largely erased, and how people with AIDS “” friends, “colleagues, presidents, owners.. Stood by and did nothing” and n ‘have never been held accountable.) Artist David Wojnarowicz the tumultuous epic “Postcards from America / X-rays from Hell,” written years before his death from AIDS, recounts a kitchen table commiseration with a friend in about AIDS, then pulls the reader around mourning for lost friends, anger towards government and society rampant homophobia (and complicity), and so on. And anti-imperialist activist David Gilbert, interviewed by Dan Berger, discusses his organizational efforts that have led to a system of peer education on AIDS for other inmates – what Berger describes as “an example. striking a revolutionary commitment to face state violence through a policy of care.

This philosophy of “transformative care politics” crops up throughout this book as well as, more importantly, the struggle against the social ills in which many of these writers are involved. There is beauty and life and other uplifting themes, as Milstein hopes in the prologue, sewn into these stories. What “Rebellious Mourning” suggests is that taking care of yourself and others takes many forms – and it sometimes feels like doing the job.

Cindy Milstein will present “Rebellious Mourning” at Red Emma’s on January 21 at 3 pm. For more information, visit redemmas.org.

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