Reflections on Creating Change 2016
By Lia Kaz
When I was younger, my grandfather used to tell me stories about his father. I heard about how my great-grandfather, Sam Kaz, fled Russia in the early 1900’s to escape anti-Semitic terrorism. My grandfather told me all about his father’s bravery, and his kindness. He told me about how Sam would give candies to children in the street. He explained how radical it was for his father to develop an interracial business in Chicago at the time. He taught me the songs that Sam sang to his children and grandchildren to help them fall asleep. One of the lessons passed down from my great-grandfather, to my grandfather, to my mother, and then to me, was about hurt and protection. Sam always said, “There are two ways of being hurt in the world. One is to make sure the world knows how badly you’re hurting. The other is to make sure that nobody ever hurts like that again.” I’m told that he did not talk about himself much, but instead, interacted with the world through his kind ear and vulnerable heart.
Creating Change provided me some good questions about identity, hurt, protection, and community.
I felt my own fear when I arrived in Chicago, obvious as the January temperatures, tightening me up. I boarded the El with my eyes cast down, holding my belongings closely. And as we rode into the city, I felt no sense of connection to those around me. Shouldn’t I feel some connection to the city that raised my family? And wasn’t there enough shared experience on the train to make me feel like I was in a group of “us”? I thought of my grandfather, and his father, and how they would see the train. While I looked for people who might hurt me, perhaps they would have been looking for people who needed a coat, or who could use a laugh. I just wanted to get where I was going, without interruption. And there are reasons for that; different identities, different experiences.
Creating Change is an incredibly complex amalgamation of communities, identities, knowledge, power, and really raw suffering. The National LGBT Taskforce has their work cut out for them. Each letter of their title carries a heavy weight, and represents so many communities. When I was walking though the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Ave., looking up at the chandeliers and down at the ornate carpets, I could not find one culture, one feeling, that summed up the experience I was having. I could not find one place to put myself, one role to play. My womanness, whiteness, Jewishness, cisgenderness, my queerness, my middle-classness—bringing everything to the table, from a predominantly privileged place, caused me to consider further what I feel I need to protect.
Protest is inevitable, when you organize groups of people. It’s a necessary process and tradition of identity, hurt, protection, and community. I’ve done some organizing and protest work before. I’ve come to find out that protests are a great time to consider allegiance, protection, and plan a better future. It’s an incredible way to consider hurt, and transformative justice. I often wonder if my great-grandpa Sam would name the protests as reminding others of suffering, or making sure the suffering stops. I wish I could ask him.
There were two events at the conference, in particular, that I wish I could ask Sam about.
One was the protest at the reception for A Wider Bridge, a US based group that builds LGBTQ connections with Israel. You might have read articles, blogs, tweets or PR statements about the protest, with hundreds of people demanding the reception be shut down. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Google it. You can ask yourself, where did they learn to recognize the threat?
I was confused when one group demanded the protection of Palestinians, and another group responded by organizing a conversation about the protection of Israeli Jews. Is that even the same conversation? And did I have a stake? Did I have an opinion?
What does it look like when we fight, some of us for decades, and gather wisdom to organize, and our methods still hurt somebody? What if we’re doing really good work, really enriching lives, and we later find out that its only possible at the expense and mortal cost of our neighbors? What if A Wider Bridge really does help LGBTQ Israelis, and hurt Palestinians (who may be LGBTQ or not)? What does that conversation look like? Is that even a conversation?
What do we do in activist circles to protect ourselves, and still protect each other? When we realize that we’re in a position of power, how do we listen to our own fear, and the fears of others?
What if we’ve been raised from fear into a less-threatened power? What if we turn out just fine? Can we ever unlearn our protection instinct?
The second event was during a panel discussion. Less media attention was given to a panel of cisgender men that was shut down by trans women. The intent was for a panel of cisgender men to talk about being in relationships with transwomen, but it couldn’t carry on that way. The reactions spiraled, allegiances and understandings of danger played out in how people reacted to the scene. I’m told there was shouting, fingers pointed, fists cocked back. I’m told people walked out in rage at the women, or stood in solidarity with them. One of the male panelists stepped down to give a woman his seat when he heard their concerns. I had dinner with a [cisgender]woman later that night, who raised her voice, saying, “How dare they? Of course I left. Do they have any idea how much we had to fight just to get a panel?”
I wasn’t in the room. I would love to tell you that I know what I would have done, about which community riled up my sense of protection. As an organizer, I might have worried about the panel. As a woman, I might have worried about the trauma sustained by the women before and during that panel. As a young person, I might have wanted to protect the protest and its clear demand for a reframed conversation.
Where does your sense of protection flare up? What about when you hear that one of those women says the panel of men has to stop because “he,” and she points, has abused her? I’m not asking you to choose sides. I’m asking you, where do you feel the danger? Where did you learn to read the threat? Does this change how you feel about the interruption of the panel?
And when is it okay to not protect anyone but yourself? Is it okay if the men on the panel only wanted to talk about how they’ve been hurt?
On August 9th, 2014, why did Officer Wilson believe that Michael Brown was dangerous? On July 17th, 2014, why did Officer Pantaleo believe that Eric Garner did not need to be protected, but was a threat to his own safety, while other communities responded by letting the world know that Blue Lives Matter? What hurt do you devote yourself to preventing? What hurt do you devote yourself to telling the world about?
If you believe your identity or community is at risk, why wouldn’t you speak and act from a place of protection? Why wouldn’t you look for a source of blame? What would it take for you to become open, and listen to others who try to tell you that you’re not at risk? Or that your community is no longer a centralized risk, and is causing harm to someone else who is at risk? What can open you to protecting another from their hurt, even when you’re at risk, too? These are questions for everybody.
Attending the Creating Change conference renewed my commitment to critically examine my fear and protection instincts. I need to locate myself only enough to secure a sense of relative safety. And when I do this, I can listen better. I think my great-grandfather was right. There are two ways of dealing with hurt in the world. Creating Change helped remind me that I have to combine them—I need to let the world know how I’ve been hurt to make sure that no one is hurt like that again. We have a duty to advocate, and a duty to listen.