On the street yesterday in my city I saw signs, held by people of many races, economic backgrounds and political affiliations, that said “Not In My Name” and “I Am Troy Davis”.
I know, without a doubt, that this callous and unjust state execution will not be in my name, but I also know, without a doubt, that I am not Troy Davis. I am not strong enough to claim that name. I do not weather incarceration on Death Row and I do not suffer under an unjust conviction. I do not face death with dignity and love and I do not answer people’s letters with great care and concern, while the state tries methodically and repeatedly to kill me for something I did not do.
I am a white, I am male. I grew up with that privilege I am frantically trying to shed, but I cannot. I fancy myself an ally and a revolutionary, but I am neither of those, either. Not yet.
I admit, I write political prisoners as a hobby, of sorts. It gives me credibility in my mostly white, activist “community”, and it makes me feel better about my privilege, about my inaction and about my cowardice. When I write these brave and resilient men and women, I never discuss their case, nor do I discuss my vanilla, above-ground activism. I never discuss politics, except in passing generalities, and I never mention the prison industrial complex. I feel that the recipients of my insipid letters do not need their attention drawn there, nor do I really know anything of it. They experience it everyday, and it would not only be stupid for me to presume that I have anything to tell them about oppression, their oppression, but an abstraction for me, but it would be rude to waste their time doing so even if I did. Instead, I write them about my life. I am aware that this is equally presumptuous of me, but it is my only truth, and the only thing I can communicate about without feeling disingenuous.
In my desk drawer, there are exactly two and one-third pages of handwriting that belong to Troy. He knew my mother’s maiden name and where I grew up. He knew what seeds I collected and saved this year, and that I like to camp in the mountains. He knew the names of my ducks and he knew about my emotionally tumultuous summer, how bad it hurt, but also how transformative it was for me. He carefully read and responded to my letter detailing what happened, and he gave me support. I’m sure you can imagine how conceited, selfish and undeserving that makes me feel tonight.
Troy’s reality was radically different. Last night, he died by lethal injection. He did not think of the handbuilt beehive I wrote him of, he did not wonder if I have decided to attend this term of school yet, nor did he think of our correspondence at all. He did not think of me, or you, because he could not. He did not think of us because we have failed him and we have forgotten and continue to forget.
Today, every single one of us who claims to care about ending imperialism and oppression have forgotten. Everyday, we fail those who are wrongfully imprisoned, convicted and enslaved in this nation under various systems of incarceration, control and coercion. We fail Mumia Abu-Jamal, journalist and former Black Panther, and we fail Leonard Peltier, writer and activist in the American Indiana Movement. In this, our bloated nation of disparity, injustice and shit, we forget Marie Mason and Eric McDavid, incarcerated for nothing but a discussion, and break our word to activist Tim DeChristopher, doomed to ten years in federal prison for making a bid on some land in a last-ditch attempt to halt its destruction. We ignore Lynne Stewart, a lawyer of integrity, convicted for trying to get pertinent information to a client, regarding their defense. We fail them all and we forget them at our own peril.
But these names are mostly names we know, if we pay attention. We also fail the names you do not know, the names we are not allowed to know. We forget Puerto Rican independentistas like Dylcia Pagan, Alejandrina Torres and Carmen Valentin, who were railroaded in sham trials, trying to gain independence and fight U.S. occupation. We fail our Black revolutionary brother Sundiata Acoli, like we lie to our Black revolutionary sister, Janet Holloway Africa, when we call her “sister”.
We also must not forget that we fail the names that we can never know. The people in Guantanamo Bay, and the secret prisons of the CIA, either held abroad in client states of the U.S. or on U.S. warships. We fail those who suffer extraordinary rendition. We forget those under drones strikes in Pakistan, and we fail those under repression in Columbia, corruption in Afghanistan, or starvation in Somalia. All over the world, we fail those who die at the hands of our consumerism and imperialism. We forget.
Last night Troy Davis was scheduled to die by the state of Georgia and he was killed. But if we continue to remain ignorant and forgetful about the dozens, hundreds, and thousands of other unjustly imprisoned and incarcerated everywhere, we are not only decidedly not Troy Davis, and we taint his proud legacy of resistance, but we have forgotten ourselves as well, and we forsake our potential, not only as activists and revolutionaries, but our heritage as people of the earth who live in light, truth and justice and instead become what we are disgusted by. We will become people who deserve no name at all, a people who do not deserve to be remembered, and a people who will die alone and forgotten.
I am not Troy Davis, nor could I ever be. But I can be myself again, and we can all be ourselves again by refusing to abide our criminal and corrupt corporate government and their mechanisms of control, deprivation and death. We can reclaim ourselves and become the activists, dissidents and revolutionaries we want to be, and claim we are, if we just refuse to forget ever again. Refuse to forget the revolutionary sacrifices and executions and refuse to let them keep occurring. Refuse to forget our planet, refuse to forgive the people who kill it with impunity for profit, and refuse to forget one another in this struggle for liberation. We must refuse to let anyone, anywhere suffer alone.
We are not Troy Davis nor can we ever be. But all hope is not lost, because we can be ourselves again, if we refuse to forget. Until then, we will forgo our names and we will not use them. I will be Anonymous and so will you. Join us.
Today we can free Troy Davis, even though he is now already passed. We free him when we free his legacy. We will not forgive and we will not forget. Expect us.