Fists Clenched, Hearts Wide Open: Countering state based narratives of violence and nonviolence

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One in four (25%) of Black trans and nonbinary young people reported a suicide attempt in the past year. Black Americans at every age die at an earlier age than white Americans, with the most affected people being infants who are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. Currently, people with uteruses in the U.S. who seek abortion in many states risk criminalization or potentially life-ending healthcare bans. Black and Indigenous women have the highest rates of homicide victimization in the nation. Indigenous people face the highest levels of sexual victimization in the U.S. and are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted; 86% of Indigenous victims of sexual assault report that the perpetrator was not also an Indigenous person. One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.

The United States accounts for only about five percent of the global population, but is responsible for 30 percent of global energy use and 28 percent of carbon emissions. This results in a U.S. per capita emissions rate 2.2 times greater than that of China, which houses about 20 percent of the world’s population. Black, Brown, Latin, and Indigenous communities are more likely to be located near sites of toxic air and water pollution resulting in higher rates of virus-related hospitalizations and deaths than white communities. Low-income neighborhoods tend to be hotter than wealthier neighborhoods; parks serving primarily non-white populations are, on average, half the size of parks that serve majority-white populations and are potentially five times more crowded.

The U.S. has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. About 70% of those incarcerated never graduated high school, and the majority of those in jail or prison suffer from some form of mental health issue. White offenders are routinely given lighter prison sentences than Black or Brown offenders, no matter their criminal history. Based upon the last Census roughly $215 billion dollars were spent on law enforcement in 2019. In 2021, there were only 15 days when police did not kill someone in the US. Reports estimate that the U.S. has 125 guns per every 100 people, making it the only nation with more firearms than people. Guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens. 1 out of 10 gun deaths are age 19 or younger.

Across the United States, only 33 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low income renter households. This already shockingly low number further decreases when those with disabilities and accessibility concerns are considered. Due to entrenched fundamentally racist systemic policies around home ownership, Black, Brown and Indigenous people face predatory lending and egregious gaps in the ability to buy homes, property values and the ability to build generational wealth.

86% of White undergraduate students use student loans to pay for school. 50.8% of Black students use student loans. Black and African American college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than White college graduates. Four years after graduation, Black students owe an average of 188% more than White students borrowed. 

Between 1978 and 2018, CEO compensation increased by more than 900 percent while worker compensation increased by just 11.9 percent. In 2021, the top 10 percent of Americans held nearly 70 percent of U.S. wealth. The typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family. White families have the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $188,200 and $983,400, respectively. Black families’ median and mean wealth is at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. Hispanic families’ median and mean wealth is $36,100 and $165,500, respectively. 

As of the 2020 census, 37.9 million Americans, or 11.6% of the population actually contacted and counted by the government was living in poverty. The average factory worker in the US makes roughly $34,000 annually or $16 per hour. In most states, this is far below what is needed to reach a livable wage. Global billionaire wealth grew by $4.4 trillion between 2020 and 2021 and at the same time more than 100 million people fell below the poverty line.

Domestic terrorism and murders by white supremacists and white nationalists has increased significantly over the past 20 years. Right-wing attacks and plots account for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years. Right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.

Hopefully, by now, you get the idea. This system doesn’t need reform, it is working exactly as intended. Violence doesn’t always look like a fistfight. Indeed, violence is often subtle, and much like any good abuser, the State itself often attempts to gas-light us into believing that the harms we perceive are our own fault, not happening, or just an unfortunate mishap that can be forgiven because look at how much more “freedom” you have than everyone else.

Violence is any policy, practice, belief, behavior, set of principles, structures, traditions, narratives, or language, that operates based upon the need for anyone to suffer for some to succeed. Violence is any system that can deem human life expendable or “collateral damage” in order to fulfill its goals. Violence is telling people who are being harmed that their best way out is to smile, be nice, and it will all just go away. Violence is telling people who are seeking peace and dignity that the aims of those seeking to sow pain and chaos also must be tolerated and given equal credence. When those of us who speak about the failures of our current neo-liberal capitalist systems to create loving, compassionate, nurturing communities where anyone can thrive, and so demand change, these are the kinds of facts and understandings that compel us to action. We aren’t looking for reform, we aren’t looking for tweaks, we are actively looking for solutions to take us out of the nightmarish dystopia that this materialistic, misogynistic, elitist, colorist, racist, colonialist, homophobic, transphobic, system has produced. Always remember violent oppression is a feature, NOT A BUG, of the current world order. 

This is what love looks like: 

To be absolutely clear, there are not good people on both sides. If you are marching down mainstreet with a nazi flag, you are not a good person. If you are actively advocating for the erasure of LGBTQIA+ people, you are not a good person. If you think that a woman, or anyone with a uterus, deserves a death sentence because they want control over their own body, you are not a good person. If you believe that Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Treyvon Martin, Malice Green, Breonna Taylor, Tyre Nichols, Tortuguita, Monica Goods, George Floyd, Amadou Diallo, Porter Burks, Eric Garner (and tragically heartbreakingly so many more: visit, all deserved to be executed in the streets (or while minding their business at home), you are not a good person. If you think that it’s okay for our children to go to school with the constant anxiety of whether or not today will be their final day, you are not a good person. If you don’t think that every man, woman, and child deserves a home, food, shelter, freedom from oppression, education, leisure time, safety, joy, love, you are not a good person. There I said it. Sorry, not sorry. 

If you aren’t angry you either aren’t paying attention or the system is benefitting you. If you are a part of the 10% of people for whom this system is working, I only have one question “how can you sleep at night?” Well two actually, because also, “how in the heck did you find Riverwise?” In any case, if the statistics above aren’t enough to convince you, I guess it remains up to those of us who reject this violence as inevitable to continue on in visionary resistance to these atrocious, murderous, systems that as Detroiter Tawana Petty said “are out to get us.” 

When those of us who take to the streets to march, block traffic, protest fascist governmental policies, shutdown global economic meetings, educate our friends and neighbors, defend our natural resources and the other species with whom we share this earth, create liberated zones, and yes, sometimes punch a fascist/nazi in the face, it is not because of some inherently violent nature of behalf of Black, Brown, Poor, Indigenous or white co-liberational conspirators, it is done in self-defense, done out of terror for what the continuation of such a future holds, done because they are poking scared mama and papa bears, done out of frustration for the complacency with a system designed to harm as many people and as much of the earth as possible, done out of a zero-tolerance policy for hate. 

We know that LGBTQIA+ youth are less likely to face mental distress and have suicidal thoughts when their family and community support them. We know tossing more guns at gun violence will NEVER solve the issue. We know that providing people with homes lowers crime, increases health outcomes, and increases economic productivity. We believe education should be a right and not a privilege. We believe no one should be able to tell you what to do with your own body. We uplift just how beautiful, how wonderful, how amazing it could be if we embraced a vision of the world built around equity and love. 

And so, the content in this edition of Riverwise is dedicated to all of the good people out there fighting the good fight, those waging love. From stories of environmental defense linking the attacks on protestors in Atlanta to the fight for justice around Camp Grayling in Michigan, to fiercely brave poetry that asks us to reevaluate our priorities, center our people, take hold of new narratives, to vulnerable tales of what it takes to be an activist, the learning and growing involved in culture change is deep and everyone’s collective burn it down, build it up, protect each other’s hearts are on their sleeves.  Indeed, what these stories of love, justice, solidarity, pain, struggle, understanding, and dedication expose is that it doesn’t have to be a fight at all, but could just be a collective release of the “stockholm syndromesque” feeling that we must cling to our abusers. We can instead turn to healing, to taking a deep breath and letting the toxicity out as we breathe in new life. This work is already being done. These ways have already proven possible. Our Riverwise community is showing us the way. 

In addition, our Sacred Spaces centerfold for this edition celebrates the decades long revolutionary work of Detroit’s Concert of Colors to find ways to bring people of all communities together through music, art, activism, education, exposure, and critical connections. The week long festival honors visions for a world centered in revolutionary creativity, potential, beauty, and acceptance. We hope that you take advantage of this beautiful and amazing offering in the city of Detroit and take some time this summer to attend as many of the events you can. The concert series is free to the public and hosts an exceptionally dynamic array of world renowned musicians, stellar local bands, conscious and provoking art, inclusive community gatherings, workshops, educational series, and more. It is truly an exemplar of mutual aid at work. 

We hope you will find comfort, camaraderie, and compassion within these pages. We hope that you will think deeply about your own role as someone capable of shaping a more just future. We hope that no matter what battles you are facing right now, you know that there is a community filled with love, waiting for you and standing by you. You are not wrong for standing up to bullies. Fear not, the broken windows through which bottles are flung in frustration will be fixed. But who is there but us to fix those whose loved ones are murdered, forgotten, erased, broken at the hands of violent State policies and their henchmen? It’s not easy, not a breezy walk in the park, staying on guard means you are often filled with deep sorrow, and sometimes rage. Yet (much to the consternation of those who can’t understand how through all of that we still build hope) there is something magical about knowing your freedom actually lies within yourself and our beloved communities, that there is much joy in our movement and a song in our hearts to carry us through.