From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Mourning and Organizing
Date May 30, 2020 12:06 AM
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
  Links have been removed from this email. Learn more in the FAQ.
[Collective grief, from Minneapolis to vigils for victims of
COVID-19, is inseparable from rebellion] [[link removed]]

[[link removed]]


Sarah Jaffe
May 28, 2020
The Progressive
[[link removed]]

[[link removed]]
[[link removed]]
* [[link removed]]

_ Collective grief, from Minneapolis to vigils for victims of
COVID-19, is inseparable from rebellion _



"I can’t breathe.” 

The words are so simple, a plea for life, and yet when the country
heard George Floyd
[[link removed]] say
them in a cell phone video, as a Minneapolis police officer pressed
his knee into Floyd’s neck, those words unleashed something.

The people of Minneapolis are reminding us what happens when mourning
becomes rage.

We had heard them so many times before. 

George Floyd’s words not only echoed those of Eric Garner
[[link removed]],
who was put in a chokehold and killed by New York City police
officer Daniel Pantaleo
[[link removed]] in
2014, but also those, conscious or unconscious, of the millions of
COVID-19 patients—now more than 100,000
[[link removed]] of whom have
died of the virus in the U.S. alone. The grief and rage of the people
of Minneapolis, Floyd’s neighbors and family and friends, as well as
people watching around the world, has been compounded by the fact the
virus was already killing black Americans at a horrifyingly high rate
[[link removed]]. 

As historian and author Ibram X. Kendi
[[link removed]] tweeted,
“It feels like black people were running for their lives from racist
terror only to run into the murderous face of COVID-19, only to start
running for their lives from COVID-19 only to run into the murderous
face of racist terror.” 

Nelini Stamp, organizing director at the Working Families Party and a
longtime organizer against racist violence, noted that grief has been
a part of struggle in communities of color for a long time. “Emmett
[[link removed]]’s
funeral radicalized a bunch of people in the United States,” she
told _The Progressive_. “His mother wanted the casket open.” In
that space, she adds, collective grief met a determination to
organize—the claiming of space to mourn became a pathway to
rebellion. It is that realization that has led her and other movement
organizers to create spaces for collective grief as the pandemic
ravages their communities. 

The people of Minneapolis are reminding us what happens when mourning
becomes rage, and a collective demand for justice: for air to breathe,
and the freedom to be left alone to do one’s breathing in peace, and
the positive freedoms of access to health care, housing, and healthy
food to make that breathing easier. 

The Movement for Black Lives has had mourning at its center from the
start. But sometimes, Stamp notes, it can be hard to remember to take
the time for grief. “When videos are available of people being
murdered—recently with Ahmaud Arbery
[[link removed]]’s
murder caught on film—the more desensitized people can be,” she
says.  “We have to always remind people that this is actually not
what it is supposed to be like, whether it is people dying in
detention centers, or whether it is [police killings].”

Collective grieving is a way of holding space to remember that things
could—and should—be otherwise. From ACT UP
[[link removed]] and other parts of the AIDS movement
to the fight for universal healthcare to the struggle against racist
violence, Stamp points out, the people who are directly impacted—the
people who are suffering and falling ill, who are losing family
members, queer people, black women—have taught the rest of us how to

It is why Stamp came together with others to put together Naming the
Lost [[link removed]], a combination ritual, vigil, art
project, and most importantly, memorial for those who have died from

Stamp lost two members of her extended family to the virus in April,
and because of the contagion, was unable to be there with any of them.
“In my family’s tradition, you go to a wake and you spend two days
in a funeral home,” she says. “You drink and you eat and you cry
and you laugh and you remember. We don’t have that now. You can’t
do that human stuff through Zoom.”

“When you name people, it feels real.”

It struck Stamp that many people were saying goodbye over FaceTime,
over the phone, or not at all, and that the collective space to grieve
was missing. 

“We thought, ‘What does it look like to actually just read the
names for twenty-four hours? We’re not going to get through a
fraction of it, but what does it look like to actually name
them?’” Stamp says. That brought them to the idea of a twenty-four
hour vigil, held on May 20-21, where a variety of people could come
together via video chat to read the names and share a few details
about people who had died from the virus. “We came together to plan
this vigil because, frankly, no one else was doing it at anywhere
close to the scale we felt was needed,” says Carinne Luck
[[link removed]], another organizer of Naming
the Lost. 

More than half a million people watched the stream, Luck says, in the
first eighteen hours alone: “It wove together so many needs and
yearnings folks were feeling: it was art and spiritual practice and
organizing all in one, because as human beings we respond to and
experience these things together.”

“When you name people, it feels real,” Stamp adds.

Public grieving is a way of asserting kinship beyond the immediate
family. Funerals expand, inviting everyone who knew a person; in this
way, rituals of mourning create and reaffirm communities. And not
being able to share in those rituals adds to the pain of the loss. 

The death of ACT UP cofounder Larry Kramer
[[link removed]] on
May 27 underscores this memory, reminding us that the AIDS movement
was made up of chosen family and that many gay partnerships were
treated as less valid by the government (meaning that those who died
of AIDS too often had their togetherness thwarted as they tried to
care for one another and grieve their losses).

Grief can be intensely destabilizing without ritual. “Some losses
are so severe that they rip apart the emotional landscape of a
person’s reality. To move on, you more or less have to construct a
new world. Without others to bear witness with you, that process feels
like a departure from sanity,” as Kelly Hayes, an organizer,
journalist, and the host of Truthout’s _Movement Memos_
[[link removed]] podcast, points out.
“Even if others don't feel the loss as deeply as you do, it’s
important to feel seen and for the enormity of the loss to be
recognized by others.” 

Collective mourning is an assertion of humanity in the face of those
who would deny it. In this way, it is also an antifascist action,
Hayes says. 

Hayes was one of the organizers of We Grieve Together
[[link removed]],
a social media
[[link removed]] event
that included the naming of names of those who died of the coronavirus
as well as storytelling, art, and performances that took place on May

Collective mourning is an assertion of humanity in the face of those
who would deny it.

“I feel like we are losing our way during this terrible, chaotic
time, and I am not entirely sure what it will take to overcome
everything that we need to overcome, but I know we can’t do it
without empathy, and our enemies know that too, which is why they are
trying to stomp it out of us,” Hayes says. “We are all living in a
state of evasion right now. Evading death, evading suffering, evading
other people to avoid their germs. We need a moment of collective

Thinking of grief as part of a political struggle can be difficult,
though. Even radical organizers are not immune to the bootstrap
mentality, the idea that vulnerability is too weak, too emotional, or,
as Nelini Stamp put it, too _feminine_. They sometimes force
themselves to keep going when they are hurting. 

Yet, Stamp says, conservatives see no problem with weaponizing grief,
while the U.S. left often misses its own moments to stake our claim to
our losses. “Every year in New York, they read the names of everyone
lost on September 11,” Stamp, who grew up in the city, says. As
lessons for U.S. activists, she pointed to international
demonstrations of political grief, from Argentina’s Mothers of the
Plaza de Mayo
[[link removed]] marching
against the dictatorship and its disappearance of their children; to
the mourning for the forty-three activist students disappeared
from Ayotzinapa
[[link removed]],
Mexico; to funerals during apartheid in South Africa
[[link removed]]. 

After all, the disproportionate effects of the coronavirus demonstrate
another facet of white supremacy—one that has long meant that it is
harder for black Americans to breathe. 

When I was doing research for my first book _Necessary Trouble_
[[link removed]], I spoke with South Bronx
Unite activist Mychal Johnson, who was organizing against the location
of polluting industries in his mostly black neighborhood. In
the Bronx
[[link removed]],
New York’s poorest borough, the coronavirus has taken a massive
toll—nearly twice as many deaths as Manhattan, which has 15 percent
[[link removed]] people.
“People of color breathe different types of air and have different
types of health outcomes due to the living environment around them,”
Johnson told me in 2015. “We’re only fighting for our right to

Yet, at the exact moment that it became clear that the virus was not
the “great equalizer,” that it was killing more poor people, more
people of color, as well as the elderly “hidden away” in nursing
homes, “the focus moved away from the disease and the dying, and
towards an essentially artificial debate about when, how or if to
‘reopen the economy,’” Carinne Luck says. 

It makes sense, Stamp says, to be angry at the protests calling for
reopening, but also, a better practice of public grief might help
bring home the reality of the virus to those who haven’t been
touched by it personally. “The average person can’t register a
number more than like 150, like really, really register it,” she

Some people may just not care about black lives—the deaths of George
Floyd, of Ahmaud Arbery, of Breonna Taylor
[[link removed]],
made that abundantly clear once again—but others who attend reopen
protests, Stamp suggests, may actually be struggling with the economic
reality. “Without a grieving process, without recognizing the
humanity in that space, you get the political divide that is
happening—that was going to happen anyway—but [that’s]
exacerbated because we are not humanizing the crisis.”

That polarization is created by a political and economic system that
tells us to only look out for ourselves, and it’s made worse by the
isolation of those suffering from the virus—an isolation that may be
medically necessary but, nevertheless, serves to divide us even more
into separate camps: those who are touched by the disease and those
who are not. 

“This society does enough to make us afraid of each other,” Hayes
says. “We need moments of reconnection where we actually extend
something to each other that’s worth having: empathy. That’s what
matters most to me about all of this, creating a process by which
people allow themselves to be vulnerable and to extend empathy to

For Stamp, the vigil helped her heal her own losses, and turn back to
the struggle at hand.

In those spaces—from grieving vigils in public, such as those held
by New York community organizations
[[link removed]] to
coincide with Naming the Lost, to the online actions put together by
activists like Stamp, Luck, and Hayes—people can come together and
find a little bit of collective joy within their pain, and from that,
take the will to go forward and keep fighting. 

“The only organizing I’m interested in is one that really meets
people where they are—and stays with them in that place a while;
that asks, what do you need right here not, how fast can I take you to
where I want you to go,” Luck says. “What kind of movements can we
hope to build, when we don't demonstrate authentic care and respect
for those we are inviting in?”

For Stamp, the vigil helped her heal her own losses, and turn back to
the struggle at hand. “There was a weight lifted off of my own
shoulders because I had the space to finally name the people I
lost,” she says. “It was healing and I can actually now fight for
these folks. I can fight for these folks and the folks who are still

_Sarah Jaffe is a regular contributor to The Progressive and a
reporting fellow at the Type Media Center, covering labor, economic
justice, social movements, politics, gender, and pop culture. Find her
on Twitter at @sarahljaffe._

Sign-up for The Progressive's free weekly e-mail newsletter.
[[link removed]]


[[link removed]]
[[link removed]]
* [[link removed]]







Submit via web [[link removed]]
Submit via email
Frequently asked questions [[link removed]]
Manage subscription [[link removed]]
Visit [[link removed]]

Twitter [[link removed]]

Facebook [[link removed]]


[link removed]

To unsubscribe, click the following link:
[link removed]
Screenshot of the email generated on import

Message Analysis