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My tribute to Eric Garner—the illustrated words of Hank Johnson

Skethchnotes by the author

To the community of Black Americans and to activists globally, working tirelessly to offer voices to the oppressed, I had to create something of content in the midst of my life of great privilege. Yesterday I was again overcome with the agony of it all as I read tweets and facebook posts filled with the incredible black response to these insanely unjust court rulings. I finally chose to watch the footage of Eric Garner's death. My heart collapsed.

Then I move to the video content being created, read about the marches, the die-ins. Look at images of these demonstrations. It is how change will happen. I still ascribe to the truth as it is told by Howard Zinn. That history is created by the people. I also recognize that my privilege can be used to create change. And I do. I work everyday to live values that put compassion above all other spiritual or revolutionary impulses. As the Dalai Lama said, "Compassion is the new revolution." In the form of restraint, compassion is what I see on the streets. Walking the high road.

Hank Johnson finished his speech by saying that it is economics that divide us. Race is simply another symptom of what poverty offers by way of keeping us alienated. These conclusions were also made by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X right before their assassinations. I think each of us as humans knows better than to assume skin color and cultural differences are really all that scary. But when faced with our constant fear of survival due to ubiquitous economic hardship among the 99%, our fears spread easily. It is in our history.

We are victims of our own colonial heritage. To move outside and beyond that heritage requires first an acknowledgement of what horrors have transpired, then grieving, then reparations. Shifting Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day in Minneapolis and Seattle is a gesture in that direction. Black History Month is crucial. But I will say honesty that real economic reparations are what are really needed for the people that gave their lives, families, and souls away. This Atlantic Article by Ta Nehisi-Coates forms an extremely eloquent argument, spelling out even how the latest economic crisis was built on the exploitation of black hardship—how it is merely the latest entry to the list of this kind of institutional oppression.

And if we are legislatively too blind to offer reparations to a cultural group specifically, then let's seek radical economic change that values life, compassion, and the planet from where we all originate. Models exist. And they are coming. Groups like Shareable are in open-source conversation about alternatives. Thought-leaders about sacred economics like Charles Eisentstein offer practical methods of phasing in a new kind of money system. See the film, Money and Life. The edge-consciousness community inspired by the work of Daniel Pinchbeck: Reality Sandwich tethers our economics to compassion. There are countless others. We can engage in this movement.

I offer this image as another way of feeling the truth of what has happened to Eric Garner. How it effects his family, and what it means for the soul of Black Americans. I offer it as a tribute to the media savviness of this movement as it creates empowering hashtags out of these martyrs like #Icantbreath and #blacklives matter. The incredible restraint being shown on the streets, and as a way for me to continue breathing while my own heavy heart pulls me into anguish. Share this image with anyone who needs to hear the story this way. It's just another way to tell the same truth over and again.

Thank you Black America. Thank you all compassionate people fighting to overcome oppression.