On Monday, February 27, 2017, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow student named Celia. Prior to our one-on-one, Celia and I had gotten into several discussions regarding politics, current protests, and of course anthropology. Based on what we have discussed in the past, I knew Celia would be the perfect person to ask about solidarity and building solidarity from abroad.
Jaleel: When did you “become” involved in activism, and how has it shaped you?
Celia: I mainly became an activist to deal with my own personal issues. I suffer from depression and social anxiety, but I have been able to transform that negative energy into protest energy. However, I must say that there are times when being activist is emotionally draining, and that protest energy transforms back into anxiety. In a way, protesting is a form of coping or processual healing because it allows me to try and fix the horrors that I have witnessed others endure, while I build confidence within myself.
I have been able to acknowledge that I have a white, middle class background, but I use my privilege for the greater good. Plus, I am very much an empath, and I tend to take in other’s problems and emotions, and try my best to fix them. My ability to empathize with others has humbled me to the greatest degree. However, much like my protest energy, my humility can easily turn negative and transform into guilt. Because I am a white person, because I was born in the middle class, there is almost a hidden assumption that I am not allowed to suffer since I am more privileged than others. That itself is disheartening. I am a human being, and I am a person with feelings and principles. With that, I find myself compartmentalizing those negative feelings, and try to remain humble and turn those negative emotions back into positive ones.
in a way, protesting is a form of coping or processual healing…
My “becoming” an activist began when I witnessed the dehumanization of Palestinians by the hands of the Israeli state. The horrors that plague the Middle East were a determining factor, and really pushed me to become involved. I couldn’t sit back and allow such things to happen. I had to do something, no matter how big or small. I was also heavily influence by an Ethnography of the Middle East course, which gave me the knowledge that I needed to get a solid understanding of how bad conditions were in the region, and how to act on them. Since then, I have participated in several causes such as the J20 Inauguration Day Walk Out, Santa Cruz Solidarity Committee, and the Mutual Aid Community amongst many others. I’ve come to the realization that the purpose of protesting against the current social order of things is because people lack privilege, and we all are deserving of not only equal access but equal opportunities that allow upward social mobility. Contemporary society has the capacity to make life more egalitarian, but the centralization of power limits such a possibility.
Jaleel: You’ve mentioned that the act of protesting is because individuals lack privilege. From what I am understanding, the notion of people with various backgrounds coming together for the sake protesting and hoping to equalize privilege creates a community based on solidarity. So how would you define solidarity?
Celia: To build solidarity, we must not only agree to come together as a unit but form intense relationships with one another. We [Americans] live in a culture that is very untrusting, which has forced us to isolate ourselves from one another. So, once we begin to engage with one another, we will be able to acknowledge the commonalities that we all share, and render our differences superficial.
However, we as a people must first educate ourselves before we can engage. To combat and transform social structures that perpetuate social divides, we must educate ourselves on the origins of human suffering. By doing so, we will be able to establish a form of restorative justice and engage with others, listen to one another’s life histories, and come together to work our way to a more just society that benefits all. We must understand the pain caused by oppression to dismantle it. This would of course require the work of grassroots, activists, and scholars as well.
Jaleel: You speak of scholars being involved in the process. So, would that include your field of study, anthropology? Are there benefits, both practical and theoretical, for anthropologists when they are politically engaged?
Celia: There are definitely benefits for anthropologists. However, my issue is that, in my opinion, they are not engaged enough. For anthropologists, there is an issue with temporality. Far too much time is spent speculating and theorizing, while little time is spent acting out theories and engaging with the people involved in protests. It must be clear that there is a time to speculate and a time to engage. Anthropologists, especially, are aware of the perpetuation of human suffering. There is no longer an arbitrary divide between intellect and action, and we tend to learn through our actions. Anthropologists have a moral and scholarly obligation to bringing an end to human subjugation.
there is no longer a divide between intellect and action…
Jaleel: As someone who is studying anthropology, who is aware of human suffering and trying to understand the complexity of human nature at the same time, in your opinion, what does being human mean to you?
Celia: Well…one of the greatest things that makes one human is empathy. To empathize is to look past yourself, and to understand what it means to live vicariously through someone else. It goes beyond understanding their socioeconomic status, their gender, their race. It is about listening and engaging with them, to understand that they are just as human as I am. And the moment issues such as gender violence, racial violence, and structural violence become human concerns, we will be a step closer to building solidarity, both domestically and abroad.
My discussion with Celia was enlightening and inspiring. Not only was I able to engage with someone who is involved in several movements, but I was able to learn about the things that drive her and the things that make her human. Celia is someone who wishes that all are granted the same level of dignity, respect, and opportunity. The issue for few is an issue for all. And to unite domestic concerns with international concerns is what’s needed to fight for real change. But we must remember that real change starts with empathy. It’s empathy that makes us human after all.
Celia is currently writing her senior thesis on the cultural and psychological processes associated with activism, and hopes to use the tools she learned as an undergraduate to continue being engaged with others and bring forth equality for all.
Jaleel Plummer, 2017
Image: Al Jazeera, 2015