Honoring LeTeisha Green

November 12, 2009—Honoring LaTeisha Green

I was able to attend the powerful memorial for LaTeisha Green here in Syracuse tonight despite fever, thanks to the sensitivity of the event organizers and supporters.

Health update, with thanks to all who are asking: I gained double digit pounds on an anti-wasting med. I haven’t been able to tolerate the first two anti-malarial treatments for the first of the three tick-borne diseases, so I’ve been on a medication holiday since shortly before September. That makes it a little easier to function without the meds, but I’m worsening without treatment.

Rather than have a rest since September, my insurance carrier mandates a primary care physician locally. As a result, I’ve had to start almost from scratch, spending weeks in appointments with primary care doctor, specialists, and grueling tests as rule-outs for other diseases.

As soon as this full-time medical work is done in upcoming days, I will be starting a qualitatively more aggressive anti-malarial treatment, which means the “holiday” is over and it may be a little rougher for me until late winter/early spring.

So it especially meant a lot to me to be able to be at this memorial with Syracuse activists tonight to honor LaTeisha Green’s life.

Here is my message honoring LaTeisha Green:

Illness has kept me at home for a long time. This is only the second time in two years that I have been physically able to speak in public. Both times, I have focused on this year’s Trans Remembrance—and in particular, about honoring the life and struggle of LaTeisha Green.

I am grateful to have this life opportunity to express, in my own voice, both my sorrow and my solidarity to LaTeisha Green’s family and other loved ones. I honor the courage of Ms. Roxanne Green, Mr. Albert Cannon, and Ms. Mary Alice, and the lived bravery of brother Mark Cannon. I am with you in the struggle against oppressions—and that includes wherever racism rears its hideous head.

I thank the organizers of this event for allowing me to be a part of the historic possibilities that exist in this meeting of struggles against oppressions. I thank those activists of color who are struggling against oppressions on multiple fronts, for your work in building coalition, including bridging language and experience.

At English-language gatherings in the U.S. to honor trans lives, the focus is on the pronouns she, he, ze—often raised because of the pain and rage caused by disrespectful pre-event and post-event media coverage. Pronouns are important: they are an expression of body and self, of personhood.

I believe the pronoun “we” deserves the same care, thought, and discussion, as well. The word has the power to mend or to rend.

Many white trans people have grown up in social isolation, constantly excluded from, and longing for the pronoun “we.” It’s understandable to think that coalition can be created by using an inclusive pronoun. But inexperience or opportunism, reducing LaTeisha Green’s life to a single identity in order to claim a common oppression, a common victory, does great harm to unity.

Many people across the United States and around the world will pay attention to what is said in Syracuse at this honoring of LaTeisha Green’s life and later this month during Trans Remembrance events. As white activists, we have a job to do, to deepen anti-racist consciousness—not just in word, but in deed.

As whites who care about unity, we need to challenge the careless use by white LGB or T individuals or groups who use “we” in order to refer to a common “victory” in Syracuse.

LaTeisha Green lost her life. Her loved ones are grieving. A young Black man is in prison.

LaTeisha Green’s family and the West Side community have the right—all the communities of African descent, all the communities oppressed based on nationality, communities of color—have the right to hold an internal discussion about violence and any other issues. It’s a basic right of self-determination.

But when white activists focus on violence in a Black community, or demonize Dwight DeLee, it papers over acute conditions of racism and diverts attention from the real root of violence in this society.

For white activists today, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech, one year before his assassination, is still a guiding constellation to stay on political course. Dr. King called the U.S. government—at that time unleashing war against the Vietnamese: “[T]he greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

Today the Pentagon is waging warfare, overt and covert, against any country that dares to defend its right to sovereignty and self-determination. Yet the war machine is portrayed as a vehicle for LGBT liberation, delivering shock-and-awe “democracy,” while while sadistic anti-gay and anti-trans rape and humiliation are part of the science of torture, terror and racist control—from Abu-Ghraib to Attica, Guantanamo to Auburn prison.

Troops were diverted from the front lines in Iraq to train their weapons on Black residents of New Orleans trying to feed their communities after Katrina. The levees broke because the money to fortify them was diverted to the war for oil profits in the Middle East.

Federal immigration police are raiding the bus and train stations here and across the country, raiding factories and fields, physically tagging workers by skin color, tearing children and babies from parents, carrying out mass deportations. In the U.S., Muslim, Arab and South Asian neighbors and co-workers are being disappeared, illegally detained and outsourced for torture. The U.S. government at every level continues to trample on treaties made with sovereign Native nations.

There’s not one common oppression around which to unite. But from Selma to Stonewall, unity has been demonstrated between those who do not necessarily share the same oppression.

The youth who rose up in the Stonewall Rebellion that raged for four nights in Greenwich Village in June 1969 did not all face the same oppression: racism, homelessness, unemployment, hunger, bashings, immigration status, draft status, police brutality.

Those with the least to lose and the most to gain from struggling for change—Black, Latina and white homeless transgender youth—led that defensive battle against police which quickly became an offensive battle. United in collective struggle, they made history.

To me, it is a victory that we are all here together, despite the institutionalized fault lines of oppression that have been placed between us and all the divide-and-conquer ideology wielded to keep those divisions in place.

Wasn’t it the potential for inter-racial class solidarity in the old 15th Ward—described as racially diverse within the heart of the Syracuse Black community—that earmarked that neighborhood to be torn down for urban renewal?

Consciousness is shaped by lived experience, and there’s many experiences of life in this room. But whether viewed as mistakes or learning, the process of unity is achieved through interaction.

Frederick Douglass eloquently described the process by which coalition leads to consciousness and deep self enrichment. He said, shortly before his death, that when he escaped from enslavement, it was for himself. When he advocated emancipation, it was for his people. But when he defended the rights of women, self was out of the question, and in doing so, he said, he found a little nobility in the act.

Douglass described the only kind of nobility worth seeking.

Is it possible for white activists to help build coalition with all who are oppressed?

There’s a long liberationist history of multi-racial resistance in this region—from defense of sovereign Haudenosaunee nations to the Underground Railroad.

In 1851 in Syracuse, a crowd of thousands—Black and white, and most likely some nationalities not recorded in the reporting–broke into the Clinton Square jail and forced federal marshals to release William “Jerry” Henry, refusing to allow him to be returned to Missouri in shackles to enslavement.

Thousands gathered in Clinton Square to cheer Henry’s freedom. The whites in the crowd could not have equated their life experience with those of enslaved African peoples fighting for freedom. But they felt enough solidarity to risk their lives grappling with federal marshals to prevent the inhuman Fugitive Slave Act from being carried out. And after that collective action, no person of African descent was ever again sent back to enslavement from Syracuse.

I think of that collective rescue action today when I hear about raids by ICE agents on immigrant co-workers and neighbors in Central New York and across the U.S.

The union movement in this country is built on the foundation that an injury to one is an injury to all.

As an anti-capitalist Abolitionist, I am guided by Frederick Douglass’ succinct articulation of this truth: “Without struggle there is no progress. … Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

As long as I draw breath, I’m with you in that struggle.

Long live the memory of the life and struggle of LaTeisha Green!