Why do I punish myself by going to these things?
Today I attended a panel event at UC Irvine entitled, Standing Rock Is Everywhere". It was sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs "New Narratives-Conversations on Identities and Cultures", an initiative begun by Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham. Also sponsoring were the Cross Cultural Center and something called the Global Sustainability Resource Center in the Dept. of Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Abby Reyes, Director of the UCI Community Resilience Projects, Office of Sustainability at UCI. She is a human rights and environmental lawyer.
Co-Moderator was Suma Peesapati, a visiting asst. professor at the UCI Law School.
The actual panelists were:
Angela Mooney D'Arcy. Is the founder and CEO of Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples. She is a member of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians-Acjachemen Nation.
L. Frank Manriquez an activist writer, artist, and Tongva-Ajachmem-Raramuri tribal scholar. She is also a board member of the California Indian Basket Weavers Association.
Jacqui Patterson, Director of NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program
Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Canada. She is a native of Canada who now resides in the US. She is an activist and self-described black queer, gender-nonconforming social justice activist.
The room was packed with students, faculty and environmental justice warriors, about 250-300 I guess. I took notes.
I had expected a more focused topic-the North Dakota Standing Rock pipeline controversy. At least two of the panelists (Khan and Manriquez) had participated in the protests there. What we got was not so much an argument against the pipeline per se, but a recitation of all the wrongs existent in the US (and Canada courtesy of Khan, who criticized both countries). Whether it was white racism, white supremacy, Christian patriarchy, environmental justice, intersectionality, industrial complex. prison complex, capitalism, imperialism, it was all there. And sure enough, Donald Trump came in for his share of abuse-mostly from Khan, as did Jeff Sessions-again from Khan.
Most all of the speaking by the participants was rambling and dancing from one issue to another. They came in answer to simple questions from Reyes.
Rather than go in time order, I will try to summarize what each person said. I am mostly paraphrasing.
Reyes kicked it off with a short introduction which consisted of references to the old buzz words, intersectionality, inequity, injustice, and distribution of injustice. To my simple mind, it was jibberish.
Then Dr Parham spoke for about 5 minutes. Something about oppression, mutuality, and the events of last year at Standing Rock.
Ms Peesapati asked the audience who had heard of environmental justice. (I had but didn't bother to raise my hand.) She explained for the benefit of those who had not that it referred to the unjust environmental burden on communities of color. She also said that race was a determinant of environmental harm.
Ms Patterson then talked about East Chicago, Indiana, where a housing complex had been built over the site of a coal smelter plant. She said that a large percentage (She gave a number but I didn't write it down) of African Americans lived in proximity to coal plants. She talked about the harm off shore drilling was doing to coastal land. She said we should stop depending on "Big Agriculture" for so much of our food and raise more food locally.
Manriquez is an off-beat character to put it mildly. Her face is tattooed and she appeared today barefoot.She described herself as an "irresponsible artist". In her introduction, she spoke about how she formed her early identity as to what people she belonged to. She said she heard the voices of her ancestors talking to her as a child. She is a very spiritual person obviously. Later, she asked rhetorically why there were no men there (on the stage, I presume). She said that men were terrified
of them (the women). She also described her experience being in the Standing Rock protests, when a blizzard hit and there was little shelter. Thousands of people took shelter in a hotel lobby. In answer to a question of what had to be done to bring the changes they were discussing, she answered, "patriarchy classes." Women needed to watch their back against the men who were marching with them. She stated that there were rapes, burglaries and child molestations at the Standing Rock protests. She also said that during the protests, efforts had to be made to separate groups of men from the women.
Ms Darcy referred to a film called "The Walking Dead" and went on to refer to the prison industrial complex and environmental justice. She raised the issue of how indigenous people who were collected into missions were infected with the diseases of the European colonizers. Specifically, she said that the main disease was syphilis, which meant that the indigenous women were being raped by the colonizers. She used the terms, "post apocalyptic", "this capitalistic, imperialistic society", "white supremacists", "hetero-patriarchal violence". She said climate change was real and brought up Hurricane Katrina and what happened to the people of color (in Katrina).
Ms Khan, in her introduction, stated that she had picked the worst time to move to "this side of the border" an apparent reference to Trump. She referred to her country as "so-called Canada". and told of the hardships of growing up black in Canada, being beaten up by the police, and learning about the hardships that indigenous Canadians faced. She told us about a Sudanese immigrant who had been killed by police when they were called to his home as he was having some mental issue. She joined in a protest and saw many indigenous people join in the protest. Together, they created a joint protest zone together and that the police infiltrated them.
Khan went on to talk about the rash of suicides among indigenous Canadians because they lacked enough food, water, resources and home insulation. She then listed the names of blacks killed in the US, such as Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, Freddie Gray and others,. She also took shots at capitalism/imperialism. She said that Standing Rock would be one of the most momentous moments of our generation and asked for applause from the audience for saying that-at which time the audience complied. She referred to "living the afterlife of enslavement". and the need to create 21st century tools or organizing. Later, Khan was asked to reflect on the tensions between protesting groups she had earlier referred to. She asked rhetorically if one could imagine a black occupation that would be supported. Somewhere along the line she referred to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and said he was a racist in 1988, but how could he not be a racist in 2017? She made some comment about conservatives and mentioned black liberation. Later, she again asked rhetorically apparently quoting Angela Davis, " What if abolition was a culture in which we did not take punitive actions" and listed police-prisons-racism and genocide. She ended up by saying that patriarchy is disgusting and as examples said "cis-men" and Christian patriarchy. (She didn't mention Islamic patriarchy.) Finally, she described Trump as a white nationalist, racist and misogynist.
Aside from that, it was a nice bunch of happy campers.
At this point (an hour and half into the program) Reyes took one question from a student in the audience and then announced a break. After that there would be a panel discussion. During the break, I introduced myself to Ms Reyes and asked if the "New Narratives" had previously invited or would invite in the future someone with an opposing view on the many issues discussed. She answered that there are such speakers at UCI all the time. I specified that I was talking about this particular program. Reyes responded by telling me that the program was initiated by Dr Parham for marginalized students after a black face video controversy that had occurred at UCI a couple of years previous. She said that suggestions for speakers were submitted to a committee which decided on speakers. She referred me to their website for future announcements and to Dr Edgar Dormitorio, Parham's assistant for further questions. After thanking her, I decided to skip the rest of the program. I had heard enough.
Comment: As I have written many times, I am fully aware of our history of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and the history of the tribes who lost their land. It is all undeniable. What is open to debate is the treatment of minorities today in the US. I won't speak for Canada because there is a lot I don't know about Canada that Ms Khan does. Similarly, I know a lot more about the US than Ms Khan does. One questions as to why she chose to move here if she has such a low opinion of our country and our society.
I seriously doubt that the New Narratives has any intention of bringing in conservative speakers, or those who are pro-pipeline or those who have a more favorable view of our country and don't see white racism under every stone. It is a question worth following up on.