Activism, movement building, and fighting structural inequality

By Hedgebrook Guest

  • 3
Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

The play ended and my colleague Carlton Mackey (founder of 50 Shades of Black) invited the audience to share one-word reflections on their experiences. The students at Bowie State University, an historically Black institution in Bowie, MD sat in silence for several moments before their words came pouring out:

Audience at Bowie SU

Audience members at Bowie State University watching “There Is A Field”

 

“Familiar.”

“Discrimination.”

“Baltimore.”

“Relatable.”

“Ferguson.”

“Reality.”

 

 

The play, called There Is A Field, tells the story of a 17-year old boy who had been killed by the police.

But it was not situated in America. The play was about Aseel Asleh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was killed by Israeli police on October 2, 2000, one of 12 unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces at the start of the Second Intifada.

I began working on the documentary style play shortly after Aseel had been shot point blank in his neck as he lay face down, having already been beaten. Aseel had been my camper at the peace organization I was working for. His murder was deeply personal. Years of interviews with Aseel’s older sister Nardeen provided the heart of the piece, rounded out by interviews with other family members and friends, court transcripts, and emails that Aseel himself had left behind.

I had launched an earlier version of the play as a Global Theatrical Action in October 2010, at the 10 year anniversary of the killings, inviting theatre artists, activists, and concerned citizens worldwide to take the script and use it as the basis of performances, staged readings, or “living room readings”. At the end, however, I was left with the feeling that artistically, the play needed further development. And politically, it needed to reach more people.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I returned to the script, with the plan of producing a university tour in the spring of 2016. All through that summer I dove back into the details of Aseel’s murder, confronting the racial supremacy that permitted the killing to happen, and Israel’s structural inequalities that translated to no accountability for the police officer who pulled the trigger.

As I was immersed in re-writes, Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, sparking a revitalization of the movement for Black lives. As I continued work on the play, video of Eric Garner’s chokehold murder went viral and 12-year old Tamir Rice was gunned down.

The connection became immediately clear to me. In Aseel’s parents and siblings, I began to hear echoes of the families of Tamir Rice, of Mike Brown, of Troy Davis.

With organizational partners such as Adalah-the legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Dream Defenders, Hands Up United, Jewish Voice for Peace, and more, we reached out to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) inviting them to host the play, believing that the themes of state violence and structural inequality would resonate strongly with Black students, and that the play would open a space to talk about intersectionality in movement building.

There is a Field scene

Scene from Aseel’s funeral in “There Is A Field”

But it wasn’t until our first HBCU performance, at Bowie State, that we realized how deeply those resonances were felt. One young woman spoke about the moment that Nardeen receives the phone call that Aseel had been shot—it reminded her of her mother calling because her own brother had been picked up and was being brutalized by the police. A student at Howard connected to Nardeen’s recognition of inherent racism in being called an “exception” for being articulate and intelligent. Audience members related viscerally to dozens of specific moments in the play, based on their very real lived experiences of how institutional inequality, police brutality and impunity can shatter families and communities.

Two more recent murders of black men at the hands of the police have brought thousands into the streets again, demanding an end to the devaluation of Black lives. The relevance of There Is A Field feels stronger than ever, and our work in using the play to open a space for interconnected movement building all the more critical. There are, of course, many complexities, including that as a white, Jewish woman, I have questions about what my role should be in being part of movement building between communities who experience oppression at the hand of systems that I am directly privileged by.

But this I know: the work of dismantling these systems and replacing them with structures of true equality, in the U.S., in Palestine/Israel and beyond, is work that all of us must commit to—through our art, and our lives.

 

 

About the Author:

Jen MarloweJen Marlowe is an author/filmmaker/playwright and human rights activist. Her plays include There Is A Field.  Her books include I Am Troy Davis, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, and Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. Films include Witness Bahrain, One Family in GazaRebuilding Hope and Darfur Diaries. Her website is www.donkeysaddle.org. She is a 2010 Hedgebrook alum.

 

 

 

 


 

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3 Comments

  • Elaine Elinson
    12:40 PM - 14 July, 2016

    Powerful story, Jen, about two familiar tragedies across the world from each other, but embedded deeply in the hearts of the families of black Americans and Palestinians. Those one word responses — familiar — are heartbreaking. Thanks so much for this posting, and I really hope to see the play.

  • Pingback: Activism, movement building, and fighting structural inequality | View from the donkey's saddle

  • Mary Sojourner
    12:47 AM - 7 August, 2016

    I ask you to be deeply careful about questioning your right to create: “There are, of course, many complexities, including that as a white, Jewish woman, I have questions about what my role should be in being part of movement building between communities who experience oppression at the hand of systems that I am directly privileged by.” I recently witnesses a once-powerful sacred land group torn apart by the effort to get everyone to become politically pristine. Dedicated white male comrades were denounced purely on the basis of their skin and gender. Questions of who was oppressed more shredded our solidarity. This same phenomenon occurred during Second Wave Feminism, as women of color denounced white feminists, gay women split from straight women, women with physical challenges split off.. The splits were many and thoroughly destructive. Many of our meetings devolved into the effort to become “pure.” Years later, we learned that often the divisiveness had been caused by infiltrators. Not all of us have the luxury of academic hair-splitting. None of us, in fact, have that luxury. Equality and mutual respect are shattering all around us, while the overlords are joined in solidarity – as they crush the rest of us and the environment.. Cui bono, sister.? Cui bono?.

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