May 24, 2024

don’t look away

protestors holding up signs demanding the end to Israeli occupation of Palestine
photo caption: protestors holding up signs demanding the end to Israeli occupation of Palestine. photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about Nat Turner’s Rebellion for the past week or so. Imagining the sticky late summer of 1831 in Virginia, an hour’s drive west of Virginia Beach. Learning more about Nat Turner and the brave people who joined with him. How he struck out against a state that hated him for everything but the promise of his labor.

Nat was a religious man. He believed that his god was sending him signs that he must liberate his people. He experienced a series of visions calling him to liberate his people. He saw a solar eclipse, then a year later watched the sun turn bluish-green. These were the signs he needed.

One week later, he began his revolt by killing the family that by law owned him. His rebellion began to grow. Some of the people that joined the rebellion that bears his name were free, some enslaved. They killed fifty whites, adults and children, in their fight to end oppression. They hoped to ignite a broad uprising among the rest of the enslaved.

The response from the white state of Virginia came fast. Within two days the state had called up more than 3,000 members of the militia. The revolt fractured as the soldiers killed or captured the liberators. Nat Turner lived in hiding for more than two months before they caught and executed him, too.

The uprising terrified the whites living under a society upheld by Black enslavement. The Haitian Revolution had taken place some 30 years prior. Even in their centuries of obscene theft they feared losing everything. Soldiers and civilians killed close to 200 slaves who had not joined the rebellion. In 1832, Virginia banned the enslaved from learning how to read or write. Some legislators did write bills to abolish slavery though they failed to pass. But for many, the event began a turning point against the institution of slavery in America.

history repeating

I’ve been thinking about Nat Turner this week in part because of an essay by William Spivey. I’m writing this as Israel continues its assault against the people of Palestine. I see the same media that pushed for a war in Iraq now approving this new genocide of Palestinians. I read the comments from people who call any opposition to the Israeli state as antisemitism. I remember the nationwide push against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. That peaceful movement launched almost 20 years ago. People around the world have been trying to Free Palestine for more years than I’ve spent alive.

Those efforts had little impact on people in the “largest open-air prison” known as Gaza. Israeli settlers continue to steal land and homes from Palestinian people in a clear system of apartheid. Two weeks after the surprise attack by Hamas, Israel has doubled down on its assault of everyone living in Palestine. They’ve dropped a horrifying number of bombs on Gaza in the last ten days alone. Hospitals, apartments, and entire city blocks full of innocent people vanished into rubble. Vu Le writes:

“Cutting off food, water, and energy, and ordering civilians to evacuate Northern Gaza while raining death on families fleeing for their lives and vowing to do more—this is genocide; this is ethnic cleansing. We must be firm in condemning these war crimes, especially as the US government is openly supporting the Israeli government and its violence and inhumanity against Palestinian civilians, including children, who are not Hamas.”

Ijeoma Oluo writes about why this isn’t an abstract conflict:

“I have been speaking out about what has been happening to the Palestinian people my entire adult life. I have been studying systemic oppression and violence my entire adult life. As a Black woman, I’ve known systemic violence and oppression my entire life. And I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to shining a light on systemic violence and oppression, and demanding that people do something about it. “

I struggled with the feelings that I was inserting myself in a conflict that I didn’t know much about. But I can’t work to undo racial injustice at home and ignore it overseas. We’re fighting the same fight against different imperial powers. Drew Burnett Gregory shared some of the many articles and essays she’s been reading this week. She writes:

“[A] lack of expertise should not be an excuse to turn away; it should be an invitation to learn. The only thing I was taught in my childhood that wasn’t pro-Israel was that “the Israel/Palestine conflict” was just too complicated. If this is how you feel — as friends and family and voices you trust post conflicting statements — I’d encourage you to learn more, not less.”

And finally, M. Muhannad Ayyash puts this struggle into its larger context, writing:

“[W]hat all these Western imposters have never understood is that we understand our struggle as a people’s struggle, not the struggle of this or that political faction. Across all our big and sharp differences, we know that we are all together in the end because it is all of the Palestinian people who are under brutal occupation and assault, aspiring for the same freedom and liberation.”

don’t look away

The united states has supplied weapons and funding for decades with my tax dollars and in my name. We have to act against even the things that might feel inevitable. Jewish Voice For Peace is asking everyone to call our elected officials and demand a ceasefire. The Antiracist Daily has an explainer for people who want to know more about the decades-long conflict and what we must do now.

I didn’t live during Nat Turner’s Rebellion. I don’t need to consider how I would have felt about it had I been alive during that time. It isn’t possible for me to go back in time and support his fight for liberation. I am alive now. I have to do something now. We can’t let this go. We can’t look away.

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]