I’ve chosen this title for my blog---"From the River to the Sea"--as a metaphor for the words to come. The phrase---a slogan, a mantra, a cry in the streets, a political project--is used by Palestinians to articulate and imagine the idea of freedom and self-determination while living under Israeli Occupation. The words symbolize a desire to decolonize land held by Israel from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and to achieve full equality, civil rights, and dignity.
The words resonate with me in several ways. They have the cadence of music, which is for me the audification of what Robin D.G. Kelley calls freedom dreams. In his recent book Noise Uprising, Michael Denning reminds us that Theodor Adorno, that skeptic of so many things, referred to the gramophone upon its invention as a “proletarian loudspeaker,” and that early recorded music was created by and took place in port cities across a workers' diaspora of the global south. In the Black musical tradition, rhythms of slave revolts originate in syncopated African drums---used to code plans for noise uprisings under the master’s nose---and work: the swinging of hammers intended for the spike, but carrying the weightier aspiration of knocking down systems of slavery, genocide, oppression. In the spirituals, the “sorrow songs,” as W.E.B. Du Bois named them, the River Jordan itself signifies the destination of the living seeking freedom from death in life, and from life in death.
During the Black Lives Matter movement, Afro-Palestinian liberation became a new geography of liberation, to use Alex Lubin’s term. In the midst of the Ferguson protests against the killing of Michael Brown, Black protestors carried Palestinian flags in the face of U.S. National Guards, while Palestinians ‘tweeted’ from the West Bank directions for dealing with tear gas. The scope of articulated freedom was wide, transoceanic. During the Occupy Movement of 2011, a common slogan used by protesters was “Occupy Wall Street Not Palestine.” The word, 'Occupy,' became a poignant double entendre: Palestinian resistance to colonization a trope for fighting capitalism itself. Palestinians became emblematic of the “99 percent,” and commoners across the globe perceived their solidarity through a felt empathy and identification with the rights of indigenous people to take back what was rightfully theirs: land, bread, freedom, as the Bolsheviks called it in 1917.
“From the River to the Sea” then is an expression of historical, and transhistorical, revolutionary dreaming. If Marx and Engels argued that under capitalism “The working man has no country”----her own land, bread and freedom expropriated by the capitalist nation-state---then their compulsion for “workers of the world” to unite encompasses struggles to live free everywhere: Palestine, Ferguson, Wall Street, Standing Rock. Indeed “Water is Life,” a slogan of the Keystone Pipeline protests, embodies the elemental nature of human craving to live in a non-exploitative relationship to the world: from the river to the sea. In his book Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason Moore reminds us that the capitolocene---the epoch of humanity under capitalism---*produces* nature itself. Rising sea levels are a ‘new nature’ come home to roost through the exploitative, accumulative logics of capitalist production. If nature is produced everywhere then resistance to capitalism is necessarily anywhere. Coal excavation, deforestation, carbon mining are ‘gravedigging’ means by which capitalism creates a planet in revolt against itself.
Finally, “From the River to the Sea” is an expression of gender fluidity: the transmogrification of bodies that is this historical moment’s most rapid, shape-shifting revolution. In my working-class literature course at Purdue, students respond most powerfully to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. The body in Feinberg’s account is the productive site of struggle not just against gender conformity and biological sexism, but capitalist violence against workers, police violence against LGBTQI+ and African-Americans. “Double consciousness” for Feinberg is the awareness of simultaneously lived oppression and exploitation for transsubjects. It is also a dialectic of sex that produces bodies in resistance. As Feinberg becomes transgender, he crosses a River Jordan of compulsory cis heteronormativity, he becomes a body not just in itself but for itself. Feinberg gets free.
Which returns us to Palestine. The capacity to live ‘from the river to the sea’ means the capacity to move, and to move freely. It means to breathe. The antidote to ‘the working men have no country’ is a borderless world. “Free Palestine” is not simply a heralding of the end of Israeli apartheid; it is a metonymy for a world without walls, without bounded borders, without checkpoints. It is the migrant and immigrant’s plea that emancipation be everywhere, legalized citizenship no where. The latter is no more stand-in for the former than formal equality is for self-emancipation. My website thus takes its own mantra from the Palestinian writer and revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani: “Everything in this world can be robbed and stolen, except one thing; this one thing is the love that emanates from a human being towards a solid commitment to a conviction or cause.”
“From the River to the Sea,” then, this blog, is about returnings, and right of return. It is about the dispossessions all of us face, everywhere and anywhere, and how solidarity closes the spaces between us: from the river to the sea.
My next blog will take up some of the freedom dreams of the writer James Baldwin.