Tempo

Dreams from my mother

Posted 6/12/20

Having spent a great part of my youth in protests and demonstrations, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Tompkins Square in New York City, I am, sadly, only too familiar with the dynamic that plays out on angry streets during hot, summer days.

When the oppressed rise up, things can get dangerous. Especially when bureaucracy and police are involved. A bruised and dislocated shoulder that still acts up 40 some years later reminds me of the brute force with which I was literally manhandled as a teenager protesting outside St. George's Cathedral, in Cape Town.

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Tempo

Dreams from my mother

Posted

Having spent a great part of my youth in protests and demonstrations, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Tompkins Square in New York City, I am, sadly, only too familiar with the dynamic that plays out on angry streets during hot, summer days.

When the oppressed rise up, things can get dangerous. Especially when bureaucracy and police are involved. A bruised and dislocated shoulder that still acts up 40 some years later reminds me of the brute force with which I was literally manhandled as a teenager protesting outside St. George's Cathedral, in Cape Town.

June 1972. Cape Town University students held a protest about apartheid education on the steps of the cathedral believing that, because it was private property and a church, we would be safe. Instead, we were baton-charged. Fifty-one of us were charged with breaking municipal regulations.

Further protests in Cape Town were banned under the Riotous Assemblies Act, and a protest about the police action, again on St. George's Cathedral steps, was dispersed with tear gas and rubber batons.

My shoulder was bruised, torn and dislocated. In the ensuing weeks, small groups of students continued to gather on a building in the Rose Garden of the University of Capetown, overlooking De Waal Drive, to protest.

In the course of these protests, a large number of students were again arrested and charged. I had to leave my homeland quickly but felt so lucky to have an American father, and took asylum in his country, along with a green card that allowed me to stay.

I felt vindicated in 1990 when I gathered with other South African political exiles, outside Gracie Mansion in New York, for a meeting with the great Mr. Nelson Mandela. We were pardoned by the iconic leader when he went from a political prisoner to president of South Africa. I knew then all things were possible. I believed in miracles.

Fast forward and here we are again. But this time the struggle belongs to our children and their children - new generations of blood resistance. A rainbow of cultural confluence that knows no border or boundary; the Earth, and her people, are becoming one, in this new generation of hope.

Black lives matter, but so do red ones, and brown, yellow and white. And all mixed together with broad brushstrokes that gently push us to remember our common origins.

A decade ago I wrote a play called "The Land." It was about two women on either side of the divide, in Jerusalem. One Palestinian, the other, Jewish. In one scene, the Israeli Jewess, Tamara, recalls her grandfather saying, "When you cut a man open, his bones are white, his blood is red," no matter the color of his skin.

She sees the woman beside her, Amira, and realizes there is no "other."

COVID-19 has brought this awareness to bear as we see how connected we truly are, watching this virus spread like wildfire across the globe. And now as the pandemic subsides, and summer heats up during an election year in the United States, we are being called upon to do the right thing.

To stand up for justice and equality. To take personal accountability. To forgive and ask to be forgiven. To see our part in the long chain that ultimately leads to redemption.

To understand that silence is complicity, and as the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu noted, "The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." This sentiment has more urgency now than ever. We must come together and put aside all fears and distractions, to stand up for what is right and true.

Here in Taos, for the most part, people get this - in a tricultural community that has lately come to embrace many others, outsiders all, who continue to come, and perhaps even stay. This week our polyglot community stepped up in solidarity with George Floyd and all the other men and women of color who have lost lives to police brutality.

Yes, black lives matter. But so do all other lives. Let's celebrate our diversity, instead of fearing it, because when we understand, as my character Tamara did in that instant, that there is no "other," then we are finally, truly free of limitations that have never served us but have only divided us further.

And once we break these chains, there is no going back to the way things are and have been.

As the summer streets heat up, more people are beaten up, a light will shine brightly at last on these and all the other atrocities that have been held as acceptable or "normal" codes of police conduct.

As the pandemic claims more victims among minorities and the oppressed, the battle raging on the streets of our cities and towns should serve as a reminder that until all people are free, none of us are safe.

"I have a dream," the late Dr. Martin Luther King intoned from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963. Almost a decade later, in June of 1972, I stood on the steps of St. George's Cathedral and dreamed.

Even though, in these dark and confusing times, it appears we are living a nightmare, dream we must. And dream big. For all of them and all of us.

Lynne Robinson

Tempo editor

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