Burlington WA–Worker and Immigrant Solidarity March, Feb 12 2017 / photo by Sharon H Chang
by Sharon H Chang
I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in a Worker and Immigrant Solidarity March this last Sunday in Burlington, Washington. It’s the first rally/march I’ve been to out of Seattle in a while and it got me thinking. A lot.
First, the show was impressive but still much smaller than many Seattle marches–presumably because we were in a smaller city? Or is it because worker and immigrant rights still don’t often make the top of peoples priority lists? I wonder…
Second, I saw MANY farmworkers and their families at this Burlington march; tons of Latinx and Native folks. Proportionately it felt like way more people of color than I usually see at Seattle marches. Seattle is a majority white city and its marches turn out a lot of white folks. But Seattle marches also get way more media attention. Is it only because of numbers, because of big-versus-little city, or is something else at play? I wonder…
Third, aside from the farmworkers and their families I didn’t see a lot of people of color. Most of the supporting rear was brought up by (what appeared to be) white people. For non-farmworker POC then was it an access issue? Burlington is over an hour drive from Seattle. But so is Olympia, our state’s capitol, and folks do make that trip. I wonder…
Finally, I am not a worker or an immigrant. I went entirely to stand in solidarity and I recall feeling so much ignorance about the march and its platform. The weight of admitting your own ignorance is profoundly uncomfortable. It makes you want to run away which I wasn’t going to do. Still as I stood there wandering around with my camera I squirmed in my own skin realizing I knew so little about the Skagit Valley, its community and issues; a place and people that grows the food my family eats. I felt ashamed. The magnifying glass was glaringly turned on me and I had to wonder even more…
Worker and Immigrant Solidarity March / photo by Sharon H Chang
Coalition. Solidarity. Alliance. Allyship. Accompliceship. What do these things mean? What do they look like? How often do we practice and prioritize them? Are they only for white people? I see the words thrown around a lot in activism and organizing circles–or I don’t. Frankly I also see a lot of squabbling, separatism and divisionism too. My pain is greater than your pain. I/We struggle the most. This ism is worse than that ism. We need to be centered, not you. You (or your people) hurt me and now I will never trust you again.
How exactly do we decide whose suffering is “the worst” and deserves our attention? Is it the victim of state-sanctioned police violence or family/friend-sanctioned domestic violence, rape, incest; the incarcerated, the detained, the deported; the poor, the hungry, the homeless; the immigrant, refugee, migrant worker, undocumented, trafficked; the survivor of genocide, war, torture, terrorism; those living with disability and mental illness; those whose land has been stolen or those who were stolen from their land?
Or–let’s be honest–is it only ourselves, our own pain, and issues that personally impact us? And when do we decide that we aren’t interested in or willing to work with others now, ever, forever?
These are tricky questions. Especially for those of us who are in pain. When you’re suffering, when you’re hurting, when you’re trying to just exist–it’s extraordinarily difficult to care about much else. Likely your mental and physical health are compromised, you’re exhausted, every day is a challenge, trying to stay well (and safe) and find some semblance of contentment feels like an endlessly impossible mountain to climb.
This post is not about centering me however there’s value in pointing out that I am a biracial woman (with light skin, which matters) and survivor of trauma who lives with disability and mental illness. I can’t remember a morning in my life that I haven’t woken up and worried about the struggle of each day that lay ahead of me. And yes, that was true of my childhood too. I write all this only to say that I understand firsthand: Surviving is hard fucking work. It’s also in a lot of ways “selfish” work and rightly so.
But the purposeful, circular impact of violence and trauma, in all its forms, is exactly that. That victims are depleted, forced to turn inward, and crippled in their energy to do much else. On our journeys to avoid, deny, resist, reclaim, heal–whatever we choose to do–worrying about the hurt others are experiencing is often too much. And that is what violence and trauma have taught, groomed us specifically to do; to shut away, to be silent, to be resentful and unforgiving. In this way violence and trauma are incredibly effective wedge-driving tools of power and supremacy. If solidarity can’t be built, critical mass can’t be gained, power remains concentrated in the hands of a few–and true change remains out of our grasp as a people.
I don’t think I’m ending here with answers. Rather, as I always have, I end with questions and thoughts. I think solidarity work can feel like a Catch-22. If I’m caring for you then I’m not taking care of me. But if I’m taking care of me then I can’t take care of you. And I suppose I wonder in the end if it has to be either/or –or– if solidarity can be all/everything. What does that look like? And if we’re all-encompassing is that maybe, just maybe, where the true healing lies?