Yesterday, two things happened to me.
First, I broke my Twitter-blocks-in-a-day figure by miles, blocking 52 people who I believe to be nasty little proto-fascists. It happened in the discussion about the Dale Farm eviction. It was brutal and violent: the police and the bailiffs used aggressive tactics to throw people off land that they owned: as yet, several have been hospitalised, while no injuries to police were reported. For some reason, 52 nasty little proto-fascists think that storming someone’s home and beating people out is all right. They believe that it is somehow deserved, that these people are somehow “illegal” in their very existence, due to a small dispute over planning permission. They believe that the police absolutely should beat people, shoot them with not-so-non-lethal tasers and smash down their walls with sledgehammers. Some of this 52 expressed outright racism. In many others, the tone was clearly there. I decided I wanted nothing to do with these nasty little proto-fascists. What could I do in 140 characters that would persuade them that their line of thinking was sickeningly dangerous. I didn’t want to hear their torrents of hate. So I blocked them.
Later in the day, the second thing happened. I went to a screening of the film In The Land Of The Free, which told the story of the Angola 3. These men have been held in solitary confinement in a Louisiana jail for decades, convicted of crimes they almost certainly did not commit, because they were militants who were associated with the Black Panthers. Two of the Angola 3 remain in prison, in solitary confinement. They have been locked up alone for 37 years. The other, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary.
He was there at the screening and he spoke. It was a privilege: this person has been through absolute hell, and yet he appeared in front of us with dignity, his spirit remaining firmly intact. Hearing the voice of someone who had been a part of an inspirational group was truly moving. It sounds really cheesy. At the back of my mind was an awareness that the fangirling was probably really cheesy. The power of what Robert King said made the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.
King was asked how he managed to stay sane in his long imprisonment. He said that when he was radicalised, he came to the conclusion that America was also a prison, that the world was a prison. He was locked up in a prison within a prison. The prison many of us inhabit is a system of oppression, which was particularly salient for a man like King, being young and black in the South in the sixties. The prison exists in our minds.
It is a very powerful metaphor that King used, that we are all prisoners. Some of us fight for freedom and liberation: King himself fought for what he could. He tried to improve conditions for black prisoners before his stint in solitary confinement. He battled for decades to be released from his solitary cell. Outside, he is still fighting and will not stop.
I am not imprisoned happily. I shout and scream, I protest, and I sometimes fear that the state will crack down to the extent that I find my prison a little more literal.
Yet there are some who kiss the bars and do not mind that they are not free. Their minds are so locked up in prejudices and absorbed rhetoric that they are thoroughly unwilling to take in any information that might challenge these views. They sit in the dark for fear of seeing the chains. And so they hate outsiders and throw around racism because it is easier to sit comfortably in their cell than it is to start trying to pick the lock. They appear as nasty little proto-fascists, loudly claiming that everything the system does is completely just.
In a way, I want to help them break out, yet I suspect that even if the guards were all dead and the door was wide open, many would still sit on their bunks, unsure of what to do next, afraid of anything new.
Engaging is difficult: the level of racism that I saw yesterday felt insurmountable. And so we are still where we were when Robert King was incarcerated: how do we unlock the prison of thought?