natacha atlas - leysh nat’arak
Sandra “Pepa” Denton
Cheryl R. “Salt” James
Running Orders, by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
- Running Orders, by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.
This is often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach based on refraining from seeming to judge others, and instead expressing everything in terms of your own feelings. For instance, instead of “Don’t be such an inconsiderate jerk about leaving your clothes around”, you’d say “When you leave your clothing around, I feel disrespected.”. That approach is useful in situations in which people basically want to treat each other well but have trouble doing so because they don’t understand one another’s needs and feelings. In every other type of situation, the ideology and methodology of Nonviolent Communication can make things much worse.
Nonviolent Communication can be particularly harmful to marginalized people or abuse survivors. It can also teach powerful people to abuse their power more than they had previously, and to feel good about doing so. Non-Violent Communication has strategies that can be helpful in some situations, but it also teaches a lot of anti-skills that can undermine the ability to survive and fight injustice and abuse.
For marginalized or abused people, being judgmental is a necessary survival skill. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “when you call me slurs, I feel humiliated” - particularly if the other person doesn’t care about hurting you or actually wants to hurt you. Sometimes you have to say “The word you called me is a slur. It’s not ok to call me slurs. Stop.” Or “If you call me that again, I’m leaving.” Sometimes you have to say to yourself “I’m ok, they’re mean.” All of those things are judgments, and it’s important to be judgmental in those ways.
You can’t protect yourself from people who mean you harm without judging them. Nonviolent Communication works when people are hurting each other by accident; it only works when everyone means well. It doesn’t have responses that work when people are hurting others on purpose or without caring about damage they do. Which, if you’re marginalized or abused, happens several times a day. NVC does not have a framework for acknowledging this or responding to it.
In order to protect yourself from people who mean you harm, you have to see yourself as having the right to judge that someone is hurting you. You also have to be able to unilaterally set boundaries, even when your boundaries are upsetting to other people. Nonviolent Communication culture can teach you that whenever others are upset with you, you’re doing something wrong and should change what you do in order to meet the needs of others better. That’s a major anti-skill. People need to be able to decide things for themselves even when others are upset.
Further, NVC places a dangerous degree of emphasis on using a very specific kind of language and tone. NVC culture often judges people less on the content of what they’re saying than how they are saying it. Abusers and cluelessly powerful people are usually much better at using NVC language than people who are actively being hurt. When you’re just messing with someone’s head or protecting your own right to mess with their head, it’s easy to phrase things correctly. When someone is abusing you and you’re trying to explain what’s wrong, and you’re actively terrified, it’s much, much harder to phrase things in I-statements that take an acceptable tone.
Further, there is *always* a way to take issue with the way someone phrased something. It’s really easy to make something that’s really about shutting someone up look like a concern about the way they’re using language, or advice on how to communicate better. Every group I’ve seen that valued this type of language highly ended up nitpicking the language of the least popular person in the group as a way of shutting them up.
tl;dr Be careful with Nonviolent Communication. It has some merits, but it is not the complete solution to conflict or communication that it presents itself as. If you have certain common problems, NVC is dangerous.
Recently I’ve been feeling like I just need to break out of this. Like a last gasp. Like I need to walk out my door one day and head to the middle of a forest, and it doesn’t matter if I collapse and die on the way there, as long as with that last exhale, I reach toward the trees.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in Sins Invalid
this video really really speaks to me right now.
one of the many feelings i am having right now about being sick is intense bitterness at the left. anger at a “movement” that would make no room for not people with disabilities. fuck, for people to be HUMAN BEINGS. for acting like the black kid organizers weren’t good enough because they had to go to school and work more than one job and then use time left over for organizing. that told me i wasn’t good enough because i didn’t want to fall into a martyrdom complex. that acted like i was a failure because i was sick. their activism made me sick. their activism that said i had to lose sleep to work a zillion hours a week. or sleep in dirty environments with friggin pet rats or cheap hotel rooms that smelled of smoke or pay out of my own pocket for “bougie” luxuries like air i could breathe made me sick. no matter what i did, no matter the work i did, the cards were stacked against us from the start.
disability justice movements have given me a framework to understand this beyond the “self-care/burnout” framework. while i’m overwhelmed by how sick i got, how bad it really was this week, in some ways i also feel less like blaming myself for everything. but i also feel less like blaming individuals for past wrongs as well. everything was set up for me/us to fail from the start. for those who can’t understand that, i don’t want any part of their “movement” or organizations.
i’m starting to really internalize what is truly important here. and starting to worry less about pleasing everyone else. it’s been years at this point and it’s still taking me along an intense process.
and on the flip side, i’m developing a deeper love for the people who both bow out of this entirely and take care of themselves and fam, and the fighters and thinkers who laid down and built upon these frameworks.