Was going off script the right thing for our community? What is the future of decolonized zones?
Those were the questions scribbled in faded green marker on the white board in front of the basement-level reading room in the public library. Ryder sighed. He recognized the familiar handwriting, and understood from it that Jacob would be leading the group again. This was his favorite debate topic.
The weekly debate sessions gave the young members of the community a chance to develop their critical thinking and research skills. Each subset of neighborhood, or city blocs, had debate groups. Skills they were told, and understood, were the key to fending off colonizers and hijackers. Their weekly policy debate training developed knowledge of structural social, political and economic issues. Colonizers were the slick moneyed corporations who historically had come in looking like lambs and then tore the communities apart like lions. These colonizers, like all those that came before them, came as “saviors,” promising to “fix” what they deemed wrong with the people. Then, after destroying the communities, they swooped back in with the so-called solutions…at a price.
Hijackers worked differently. They moved in disguise. They gained the trust of the community and then redirected the efforts for change away from anything radical that would upset the system, and sell the movement out in the name of “cooperation” or “compromise.” Hijackers knew the best way to defeat revolutionary action was to invite their adversary into the big tent and make them feel like they belonged. In such a way could you assuage the anger of the people, while maintaining power and control.
Being armed with their own facts and their skills at arguing and maintaining their decision to become, and remain, an “off script” community was a vital facet to their survival.
“We have to be prepared to answer those questions!” Ryder overheard Jacob saying to a group of teens at the far corner of the room.
Ryder smiled a little. Uncle Kelley would agree with Jacob. “If we cannot defend our decisions against all critical questions, then we cannot anticipate our weaknesses nor own where we need to improve ourselves,” his uncle repeated over and over like a mantra.
Suddenly Keesha appeared at his left side. “Hey,” she murmured causally. He looked at the clock. 10:00 a.m. Where was Deacon?
“Hey,” replied Ryder.
Together they located Deacon, now pushing his way through a small cluster of people by the snack and beverage table. He grabbed a fist full of crackers out of the large yellow bowl and met the gaze of his two friends. Ryder gestured with a nod of his head for Deacon to “hurry over.”
“Did you hear that noise this morning? Did you feel it?” Deacon asked as he got closer.
“Hush!” Keesha admonished, looking around furtively.
“Like anybody’s paying attention to us, Keesh,” Deacon retorted, his mouth full of crackers.
“Yeah. We heard it. And I felt it,” Ryder added. His feet had quivered as if a rug were being pulled quickly back and forth beneath him.
“Everyone’s been saying it was just a bunch of drones that crashed. Or building demolition from the town of Westborough. They’ve been doin’ a lot of reconstruction. Seems to be an explanation that is satisfying most folks.”
“No.” Keesha said, keeping her face expressionless and her voice low. “It’s them. I know it.”
“How do you know?” Deacon’s voice was edged with skepticism.
“I just feel it.” She was always so sure of herself. “We have to get to Westborough. I know that’s where they’re at!”
Ryder opened his mouth to add his thoughts, but he was cut off.
“Hey, everyone!” Jacob called. “Let’s get started.”
Ryder estimated about fifty kids present today most on them around his age. Attendance wasn’t required. Attendance wasn’t a requirement for anything, usually. When something is of necessity, calling it required is merely redundant. In Ryder’s world, in the “off script” community, things were required for their well-being. Choosing not to participate had its own natural consequences, like not having enough to eat, or not being able to move up into the job of one’s choice, or not caring for one’s own home, family or street. Motivation to participate became internalized. Necessity was its own requirement. Being a part of the larger course of the family, community, and future generations created a sense of desire, of pride, of belonging. What Ryder and the others were doing mattered.
Jacob announced, “Today we will hear from Sam and Marcie. They have each prepared an argument to reflect one side of the issue. As usual, they will take turns making a statement. Their point-counter point statements will continue for five minutes. This will be followed by a summary analysis given by someone whose name will be pulled from the jar. So all y’all need to listen and be prepared to respond!” There was a light wave of laughter.
Sam, dressed in a bright yellow over-sized T shirt and brown slacks strutted to the front of the room. There were hoot and hollers from the audience. Marci, much taller in height than her adversary, cheered, “Oh, I got this!” and waved her arms in the air as she moved toward the podium. Her waist length braids swung from side to side as she moved. The girls clapped.
Jacob shouted over the clamor so as to quiet the room, “OK. Marci. Sam. You have five minutes. No outburst are permitted by the audience. If you disrupt the debate you will be asked to leave. The question for today is: ‘Was becoming a decolonized zone and going off script the right thing for our community?’” He looked down at a stop watch, clicked it with his thumb, and shouted, “Go!”
Marci leapt like a horse out of the starting gate: “Well, it wasn’t a choice.”
Sam replied “Yes it was. There’s always a choice.”
Marci said, “After realizing the full magnitude of abandonment by the larger socioeconomic order, well they never really were here to begin with…other than to shuffle us from school to prison, we could have chosen to languish that way. Some communities still do.”
“We lost money from the billionaire class. We lost access to that world. They wanted to train us and bring us into the fold,” replied Sam.
Marci’s voice was rising. “But the ones who left us to go into that world never came back. Or they came back –changed-doing the bidding of the master. Instead, we have learned to form real alliances, all over this country with other cities, with other groups, doing what we are doing. Neighborhoods like King-Lincoln, back in the day, showed us we can create something for ourselves. But we cannot remain isolated either. These are intersections of need and respect.”
Keesha thought of her mother and then pushed the thought aside quickly. She leaned in to Deacon and Ryder. “We need to talk!”
“Shhhh!!” said the boy beside her. Deacon and Ryder glared at the boy but complied.
“Later,” Ryder whispered. “Tonight. At the tower.” Deacon and Keesha nodded.
Sam demanded in a low but firm voice, “How can we really have any true power while existing outside the system? How long can we remain apart? King-Lincoln was ripped apart by outside forces. So what makes us different?”
Marci responded, “This is a different time. When the corporate class became the master class they sold out white folk too. And we were able to create a new alliance because the colonized class just expanded. So we are not apart. People are coming to our side!”
Sam said, “But can our movement really go to scale? Can we really expect the whole world to change? We are up against data pods. We are up against Colonizers and Hijackers who will never…never stop. We need to think about our long term survival.”
Marci shouted, “Exactly! This is how we survive. Others are waking up. It’s been gradual for decades. We must continue to build our off-script alliances. But what was partial independence for generations finally was now in our community realized as full independence. We had the knowledge at our disposal the whole time. Starting with the abolition movement, and the Black Panther party, the Surrealists, and Black Lives Matter to name just a few. Malcolm X once said, ‘I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression’.”
Sam looked intently down at his notes. He said, “But we cannot pretend the rules aren’t there. We should be finding ways to go out there, and work with the rules as they are, and then change them. Why can’t we work with the corporate colonizers and get a seat at the table for ourselves?”
Keesha thought of her mother. She worried, Was she right?
Marci would not be deterred. “Because,” she replied, “Nowhere in history can we find a moment where that has worked for people like us…. People of color, and folks of all races with little or no money or privilege, and anyone whose identity doesn’t fit into the “script” written for society. Show me where anything was handed to us that we didn’t demand and fight for.”
The audience cheered. “Quiet!” demanded Jacob.
Marci continued. “We finally realize now in the 21st century version of colonization that history reveals how the colonizers only ever give us what they wanted to give us, under the illusion that we are now their equals, the illusion that we can have a piece of their pie. Meanwhile they kept finding new ways to stack the deck, rearrange the rules, and put us right back at square one. We had to cease being dependent on them for any of our success.”
Sam was showing signs of frustration his voice raised a pitch and his brows furrowed. “Yeah but there has to be some compromise. We cannot isolate ourselves from a bigger movement. The outside world sees us as ‘extremists’ and don’t take us seriously. In addition, with what resources are we going to make it without them?”
Marci didn’t skip a beat, as if she anticipated he would make this point. She said, “Re-organizing the resources took some doin’. But with a collective will and wisdom that focused on us, on ourselves taking care of each other is the only means of survival. We created our own cooperative business with our own capitol. We developed our own schools, educating our children by our own community volunteers, and using a curriculum that met our needs. We created our own medical centers and community clean-up crews, and assistance for the elders.” As if to really drive the point home she added, “We need to create routes to connect with others doing the same.”
The crowd burst into more hoots and hollers.
“They will run interference,” Sam countered. “So why don’t instead think of how we can work out there in the corporate world with them and make changes from within?”
Marci continued, “Either we go to scale for full independence, or we would have been quietly annihilated. And blamed for our own demise. Come on, people, don’t you all wonder what that noise was this morning? Ya’ll think that’s some coincidence?” Everyone in the crowd settled into an uncomfortable stillness. “They’re up to something! The watchmen have to keep….” She was cut off before completed the sentence.
Jacob called out, “Time!!!!” and held up the stop watch. Applause rang out causing the walls to vibrate.