Revolution #55, July 30, 2006
Update from Mississippi
World Can’t Wait in Jackson
For the last week, Operation Save America—a Christian fascist organization that has spent years terrorizing women and doctors at abortion clinics—has descended on Jackson, the largest city in Mississippi with nearly 300,000 residents, mostly Black. In response, volunteers have answered a call put out by the National Organization for Women for a Reproductive Freedom Summer to defend abortion rights for women. I have come with a group of activists from the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime movement from as far away as New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Texas.
We too show up each morning at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. Our shirts are bright orange and read, “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.” We make it into the news several times ourselves, denouncing the Christian fascists who’ve come to Jackson and the even more dangerous moves of the Bush regime to turn this country into a theocracy. Afterwards each day we canvas homes and businesses—talking to people about the crimes of the Bush regime, including the attacks on women’s right to abortion and birth control, and the need for massive resistance on October 5th to Bring the Bush Program to a Halt.
By the end of the week we have heard dozens of stories from women about the choices they made about bearing or not bearing children. How many women would step forward against the avalanche of obstacles to birth control and abortion, against the patriarchal poison being preached about “women’s place,” and against the obligatory shame and guilt that women are burdened with for attaining a simple medical procedure, if they had a vehicle to enable them to act?
Across town another team has taken a break to get some soul food. Many of the young Black men and teenagers who stop in while the activists eat are homeless and have taken to referring to the woman cooking up the food as “Mom.” She is glad to find out what brings the multi-national team of WCW activists into her restaurant and quickly invites them to hold their evening meetings in her space. After breaking down how Bush’s regime is torturing people, waging unjust wars, betraying the Katrina survivors and moving to end women’s rights to abortion and birth control, they ask a young man what he thinks. He simply answers, “Look at me.” At first, the activists are confused, so he continues, “I just got out of prison after five years. I got no job. I got no place to live. I come here when I feel like I can’t stand it any more—just to talk to someone. What do you think I think of Bush?”
That morning, the local newspaper announced a new policy to enforce a curfew and lock up all homeless people overnight and then force them to do “voluntary” labor—like cleaning up trash—to pay for their “accommodations” during the day.
All week, we have met Black people who, once asked, speak bitterness for hours about how their lives have been devastated by George Bush and the system he is part of: Katrina victims with their stories of the flood, of being cheated out of their FEMA relief and of being homeless since Katrina; a female janitor at Jackson State who remembered when state police fired more than 460 rounds of ammunition at student protesters in less than one minute, killing two, and saw the same disrespect for Black life in the way Bush handled Katrina; a groundskeeper at Tougaloo campus who fills our ears with the evils of capitalism and George W. Bush. Still, many of them flip flop between anger and resignation, retreating into the notion that god has a mysterious plan or that maybe the End of Times is near. How powerfully this righteous anger could transform the country, could infuse with and carry further the discontent of others, if it were brought to the surface in hopeful, determined, uncompromising resistance.
A few of the other activists cautioned World Can’t Wait to stay away from talking about “God” with folks, but this proves impossible. Everywhere we go it seems God—or at least the idea of god, since no real gods exist—has gotten there first.
Denise is a middle-aged Black woman who works in another soul food restaurant. As she heaps our plates with turnip greens, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese and more, she asks what brings us to Jackson. She is silent as she listens to our answer and I wonder if the big Bible quote that hangs behind her means that she is supportive of the OSA protesters.
When I come up to order more seconds, she passes me an overflowing plate and refuses to take my money. Then, she follows me to the table to pile more corn-bread on top and we begin talking. Although Denise opposes abortion and recalls her own decision at eighteen to have a child, she quickly moves on to how much she hates the war on Iraq. One of the young men from the restaurant is in Iraq and he, like many others, Denise points out, doesn’t know why he is over there. Then she slows down, leans in, and speaks very deliberately, “I would go all the way up to DC to tell Bush to move out.”
Defying the advice given to me, I tell Denise that the same people who lied us into this war have also been lying about what an abortion is and even about the existence of God. She listens as I explain the difference between a fetus and a baby, nodding her head when I say that OSA and the Bush administration use abortion and gay marriage as a way of courting Black people for a genocidal program. She then draws an interesting distinction about different kinds of Christians that she learned to make based on the history in the South of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists using the Bible for hateful purposes. She’s clearly never talked to an atheist nor has she heard anyone challenge the assumption that a fetus is a baby. When I leave she takes a stack of flyers to bring to her liturgical praise dance class the next night at her church.
On our fourth night in town, we pull together a local meeting of people we have met. A gay man in his early thirties who has spent several days with us after we met at the Universalist Church opens up: “Before you all came to town, I have hardly left my house at all in the last year. I keep thinking that in ten years I will look back and say, ‘Where did my life go?’ But I just can’t stand it out there. I can’t even go to the gas station without the conversation turning to Jesus… And the more high-holy-sounding people get when they are preaching at you, the more they feel righteous about being wretched and tearing you down as soon as you walk away.”
Just in the week since we have been in town, the pogromist atmosphere has escalated. The OSA Christian fascists staged a gruesome and threatening protest outside of the Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday, declaring the pastor a “Minister of Satan” and announcing plans for a “week of violence” in Jackson. Later in the week they attempt to burn a Q’uran and a rainbow gay pride flag.
A young Black man we met earlier, who just got out of prison and considers himself a Christian, listens as a woman and the man go back and forth discussing how rapidly the mood against gays is hardening and the laws are piling up. The woman is especially disgusted with the Democratic Party, even though she considers herself a member and describes how at their last local convention Black preachers were pitted against gays to adopt a plank against gay marriage. The unlikely group of locals look at each other and the woman remarks, “I am so glad that people came in from out of town to do this, so that we could find each other.”
After the meeting, they find each other at dinner and start to make plans for a protest in Jackson on October 5th, a national day of protest to bring the Bush program to a halt. How many in other cities are currently hiding in their homes or moving to other states because the bigotry is too much to take? What would happen if they found each other and all of them made October 5th their day?
* * * *
As I finish this piece, the World Can’t Wait organizers get a call from a resident in Arkansas, the next stop on their Bus Tour. The woman complains that the WCW web site, which states that “the Bush regime is setting out to remake the world, very quickly, and in a fascist way, for generations to come,” doesn’t fully capture how bad things are. She describes how, after she spoke out for the rights of her gay son, she was assaulted and sent to the hospital by a group calling itself the “Southern League.”
Already, the news that the WCW Bus Tour is coming through as it snakes across the country has led her to start looking for other progressive people in her area. I cannot help but think of the thousands and thousands of others like her who need to be found and brought into the movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime, who need to act together on October 5th in ways massive and bold enough to shatter the suffocating political climate that sits on them, who together can create a situation where the regime is driven out for their crimes.
Ultimately it will take millions for this to succeed and those millions exist. Will those who are reading this step out of their routines, veer from their beaten path, and go out and find them?
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