By Violet Elson
Violet Elson is a Bay Area local, who has lived in Oregon, Spain, Mexico, and finally Oakland. The time in Mexico was spent studying social movements, primarily in indigenous communities. It was deep in Chiapas’ jungle where the fire of justice and political activism were sparked. In her free time she can be found bicycling around Oakland, hanging out in libraries, and over-caffeinating.
Living in the Bay Area, we are faced each day with the sharp reality of injustice. We see people living on the streets, hear gunshots, and try to survive in cities where rents are sky rocketing into the thousands. There can be no justice while border walls and prison halls stand tall. There can be no justice in this country while children don’t have homes, where families can’t afford to eat three meals a day, where economic refugees are jailed. There can be no justice while Donald Trump has a platform for his hateful and racist rhetoric.
But while we are realizing these dehumanizing facts, justice is waiting. Justice is a world without capitalism, without competition, without xenophobia. Justice is a world where we feed each other with food from our gardens, where we care for each other, where men are allowed to cry and women are seen as people, and differences between cultures are embraced. It is easy to dream of this world, of an Oakland where the buses are free and there are bike lanes instead of highways. But, I truly believe we have the capacity for being the change we want to see.
For just a few months, I had the privilege of working with No More Deaths, a group providing desert aid on the US/Mexico border. It was there, living in a tent in the high desert during the biting cold winter months where I learned about the true cost of the injustices we have in our society. I also learned about what justice looks like, how everyday people can plant the seeds of change. The people who came through our camp were often young Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadorian men looking for economic opportunities. They faced life and death in the unregulated and violent desert, crossing in the cover of darkness, relying on Mexican cartel members to guide them to safety. The No More Deaths volunteers alternated between putting gallons of water and cans of beans throughout the harsh desert terrain for migrants to find, and maintaining a functional medical clinic where lost and injured people could receive medical aid, water, and rest.
On Christmas Eve, I was helping a young man call his family in Guatemala. Through the other end, I heard the high-pitched laughter of a little girl and then watched her father break down into tears. I thought about how cruel the world is, forcing a man to pick between starvation and separation from his family, culture, and land. I thought about the volunteers I was working with, how their lives were focused on breaking down borders and creating an anti-capitalist community based on respect and sharing out in the middle of Arizona.
While prisons stand tall and border walls stand even taller the only justice we can hope for is the justice in community. We must rely on each other to create the world we want to see. A neighborhood, a school, a church – places that foster a sense of community and a sense of safety can be pivotal. Places where we trust each other, where we can rely on others for support are few and far between! The No More Deaths camp is exactly that. It is a location in the harsh desert landscape where trust and respect are givens. All people, regardless of their skin color, immigration status, and education are cared for. The violent and racist reality of immigration is pushed to the wayside for just a few days, in such a small corner of the earth. We rely on volunteers who are actively working to change the dominant paradigm but ignoring hateful rhetoric and providing basic human rights for a marginalized and abused portion of the population.
We can have that sense of change and justice in our everyday lives. We must speak out against hate, against abuse, and fight for the basic human rights so many people are lacking. We must be the justice in the world. We, as individuals, as mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers, fathers, as people living and breathing in the capitalist United States, have to be the change. A justice driven world is one where we don’t have a preconceived notion of others and where we as people aren’t pitted against each other for survival – where we are able to have communities based on mutual love, respect and sharing.