Politics and Tragedies

Flowers, candles, and posters at 18th and Castro in San Francisco, memorializing Orlando shootings. Photo by Greta Christina.
Flowers, candles, and posters at 18th and Castro in San Francisco, memorializing Orlando shootings. Photo by Greta Christina.

They tell us we shouldn’t politicize tragedies.

When a man sees two men kissing and responds by walking into a gay bar with an automatic weapon and murdering 50 people, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize the tragedy.

When a man writes a 107,000-word manifesto detailing how and why he despises women and wants to murder and terrorize us, and proceeds to murder six people and injure fourteen others, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

When a man murders nine people in a Black church and later confesses that he did it to start a race war, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

When a hurricane hits a major U.S. city, and thousands of mostly poor, mostly black people are abandoned for days; when the evacuation plan assumes everyone has a car; when the Federal government’s emergency management agency is run by an incompetent boob, in a deliberately created political climate that holds the very idea of government in contempt; when the aftermath is rife with real estate speculation and other grossly predatory profiteering — we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

I could give you examples all day.

So here’s the tl;dr, the punch line: We didn’t politicize these tragedies. They were already political.

Homophobic violence is already political — because the fear and hatred of queers is political. Misogynist violence is already political — because sexism and misogyny are political. Racist violence is already political — because racism and racist hatred are political. Cycles of poverty, and the death that comes with them, are already political — because money is political.

And guns in the United States are already political. Guns in the United States have been political for decades, arguably for centuries. Laws and policies about guns are controlled by powerful political forces who have been driving an agenda for years. And the question of who gets to have guns, which people get to carry guns with impunity and which people will have gun possession treated as an obvious and immediate threat, is political. (In so-called “open carry” states, do you seriously think it’s safe for black people to openly carry guns?)

Not all of us have the luxury of living non-political lives. We go to the store, knowing we’ll likely be treated like thieves. We apply for jobs, knowing our resumes will likely be pitched in the trash. We leave our homes and walk in our neighborhoods, with the entirely reasonable fear that we’ll be harassed or assaulted by police, by straight people, by cisgender people, by men. Even the most personal, intimate parts of our lives are political. Ingrid and I didn’t have the luxury of a personal wedding and marriage, a wedding and marriage only about us and our families and friends. Ingrid and I had to have three weddings before one of them, years later, was finally fully legal. Two of our weddings were the subject of court cases, deliberating for months and years to determine whether our marriage was valid. And we’ve been relatively lucky. In Orlando, fifty people were murdered because someone didn’t want to see two men kissing.

Politics are about power. When you spend your life being systematically ground down by people with more power than you, your life is political. When you die because of that power, because someone was exerting their power or was afraid of yours, your death is political.

We didn’t politicize these tragedies. They were already political.

I would love to live in a world where death was never political. I would love to live in a world where death was always a private matter: illness, accident, old age, none of it caused by corporate callousness or exacerbated by a broken health care system. I would love to live in a world where people didn’t murder each other to exert power over them. I would love to live in a world where people didn’t die from poverty, because some grotesquely rich people thought they just weren’t rich enough.

But we don’t live in that world.

When you tell disempowered people not to politicize tragedies, you’re telling us to lay down the small amount of power we have. You’re telling us that when people are feeling horror and compassion, we shouldn’t encourage them to expand the horizons of their horror and compassion to a larger world. And when you tell disempowered people not to politicize tragedies, you’re telling us to stay silent about some of the most important realities of our lives.

When you tell disempowered people not to politicize tragedies, you’re telling us to not speak the truth.

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Politics and Tragedies
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