Posts Tagged ‘ Jason McGaughey ’
By Jason McGaughey
For most of my life I have wrestled with deconstructing my own sense of history. I have understood since I was a child that the brutal systems of oppression that have been historically implemented and maintained were and are imposed upon my fellow human beings by oppressors who look like me. What does it mean to be proud of your history even after you have come to this realization? As a white male, this question has been very difficult for me to come to terms with. The only answer that I have is that I can say that I am proud of my history because I understand that not everyone who looked like me was part of the systems of oppression. There have always been those who look like me who have fought against injustice.
The number of whites who fought against injustice may not have been huge, but it means that the magnitude of their courage is only that much more valiant. This trip has provided me with the opportunity to speak with two such heroes.
Jim Zwerg was one of the original Nashville Freedom Riders. A white student at Fisk, he came to participate in the demonstrations and volunteered to risk his life by traveling into the Deep South, challenging Jim Crow laws in bus and train stations. He was brutally beaten during this process by white supremacists, but still managed to hang on to the principles of nonviolence and not give in to hate. To shake his hand and hear from him about the principles that have guided him, moved me to my core.
I also had the privilege to experience this entire journey with Joan Mulholland, a woman from the South who challenged social norms to stand up for justice during the sit-ins, and joined the Freedom Rides during the call to fill the jails of Mississippi. She spent time in Parchman Prison for her convictions, and has held strong to her beliefs on equality and justice.
White people who dared to stand up against such seemingly unbreakable systems of exploitation, and who maintained faith in the power of transformation, are truly inspiring to me. As a young person coated with white skin, I take heart in their triumphs and tribulations.
I have hope that in my generation that there will be more and more white people like Jim and Joan who come to awaken from their slumber. It is long past time for society to call for an end to white privilege and end to systems of oppression. I have hope that one day, I likely will not live to see it, this nation will finally end systems of exploitation. I have hope that one day white people will stop perpetuating systemic racism and will discard racial injustice. It is high time that justice reigns true, and stories from the heroes of the past give me hope that more people who look like me will challenge the system and become heroes for future generations, bringing them hope and pride that we can rise above and destroy oppression. The movement lives on and I take courage in the tales of the past and strength in their legacy. They give me hope to face the obstacles in my own life that I will face as I continue their fight against oppression and for justice.
By Jason McGaughey
I have long felt trapped within the confines of my own mind, fearing that when I open my mouth and expose who I truly am, I will inevitably be rejected. Such anxiety has not been all bad for me though. I think that there is something about experiencing life as an observer that has helped me remove myself from my own lived experience to attempt to understand life from the vantage point of the theoretical “other.” This has given me the freedom to question the most deeply held of all of our national beliefs: that we live in a free and equal society. I can honestly say that I do not believe we truly do.
Would a truly free society have the world’s highest prison population that is based upon a racist justice system? Would a truly free society call a human being illegal for entering this nation to escape systemic problems created by this nation’s corporate interest? Would a truly free society cut the triumphs of workers’ struggle that our ancestors fought so hard for? Would a truly free society push neoliberal trade policies that exploit working people around the world? Would a truly free society continue to ostracize people simply because of their sexual orientation? Would a truly free society continue to waste the world’s natural resources to perpetuate a lifestyle that is killing the planet? Would a truly free society continue to cut funding for the education of our nation’s youth? Would a truly free society continue to pursue an imperial foreign policy that is killing countless people around the world, and to be so inhumane to not even acknowledge how it is based upon hysteria about other religions and cultures? Would a truly free society be able to continue to perpetuate such inequalities, and have the audacity to not even acknowledge how they are based on racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and homophobia?
The narrative we tell ourselves is built upon illusions. Meaning that we are all too often taught our history through a lens of historical amnesia. We do not recount the whole story of the horror of our past, nor do we remember the full story of how people have come together to collectively fight against oppressive systems throughout that same history. The truth of our history is a duality. By not knowing our past nor recognizing our present, we perpetuate a system that creates and solidifies structural violence and institutionalized racism.
This trip has re-cemented my commitment to the movement. It is all too easy for me to stay quiet, to not speak truth to power, to not plead with others to come to recognize the way in which oppression is built into the very structural fabric of our society. This journey has been an intellectual, spiritual and relational rebirth for me. To learn about the struggles of the past from civil rights heroes in such an intimate manner has been beyond inspirational. Then to have this intimacy coupled and magnified by sharing it with other young activists brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions. The conversations that I have had with my peers, where we learn and share so deeply with each other our lived experiences of struggle has been nothing short of the foundations of revolutionary theory. We are creating within one another a revolution of values. We are coming to see our unity and how it is through this weapon of togetherness that we will be able to fight back against such a large and terrifying macro system of exploitation. The system is simply too big and too powerful to take on by ourselves. Though, through the higher power of solidarity we can come together as the masses to be able to truly create a nation for, of, and by the people. Only then is there any real hope that we can create a truly free and equal society not built upon systems of exploitation. We must dream big and not loose hope. Without hope we are lost. This trip has helped me regain my sense of hope, and I am grateful for that. Long live the civil rights revolution and the hope that it teaches us all.
By Jason McGaughey
This whole journey is only just emerging, but already my life has forever changed. Before I left for this trip I was warned not to let it radicalize me. The notion of such an idea I found rather insulting. Why should I fear the becoming of the self that I dream of being? Why should I fear the development of a community of struggle, even if our community only lasts for a short while? This is the sort of community that I have longed for— a community where I know that I can be free, a community of liberation.
I am simply not a man with eloquent enough words to truly describe what all of this has meant to me— to have the opportunity to learn firsthand from the Freedom Riders, a true community of liberation; to hear their testimony of the depth of brutality that they were up against, and their triumph through it all with the courage of nonviolence. It would be too easy for me to say that I would have gotten on the bus in ’61. It would be all too easy for me to say that I would have had the strength to confront such oppression with nonviolence. But the reality is that words are simply all too easy to say. To truly live out ones convictions has never been that easy. So all that I can say with any sense of honesty, any sense of integrity, is that if I were among the Freedom Riders in ’61 then I wish that I were the sort of human being that could muster that kind of courage, that kind of faith to have overcome my own fears and gotten on the bus. I can only hope that I would have had it within me, I will never know for sure.
Though I will never know if I would have had the strength to have gotten on the bus for the original Freedom Rides in ’61 I do know that I have had the courage to have gotten on the bus with the 2011 Student Freedom Riders. Admittedly we are not facing any oppression by taking this journey, but we are still a community of struggle. We are young people seeking to follow in the legacy of the Freedom Riders; we are seeking to acknowledge and confront the ways in which injustice and structural violence still plague our communities, our nation, and our world. We have each accepted the call in our own ways to fight for justice to aspire towards full liberation. This journey has only just begun, but already I have had so many beautiful conversations engaging fellow activists in dialogue about what wrongs must still be righted. We have the opportunity to learn and grow, to develop our own sense of the Beloved Community, to become filled with the Agapic Energy that Diane Nash talked to us about, and to become filled with that call to action that comes from the energy of love for humanity. I am forever grateful for this experience. I am forever grateful for this chance to become, this chance to transform, this chance to know that I have a place within the community of Liberation.