Let’s Do Something Else

Today, Hillary Clinton called on Americans to remember the days immediately following September 11th, 2001, when “we did not attack each other [but instead] worked with each other to protect our country and to rebuild.” She urged us to recapture and revive the spirit of those days, “the spirit of 9/12.” I very much fear we’ve already begun to heed her call. That is, I fear we’ve already begun to fold the monstrously specific tragedy in Orlando—perpetrated against queer people of color, who otherwise rarely figure in the stories America tells about itself—into a narrative about American greatness, American resilience, America’s capacity to triumph over evil and punish its enemies. I fear we’ve already begun to enlist the 49 dead into the project of American empire, here and abroad—into the endless, borderless war that began on 9/12.

Acting collectively in the face of tragedy can be an honorable thing. “Don’t mourn; organize,” we often say. And, indeed, New Yorkers—those who weren’t beating up suspected Muslims—really did help and love each other in the days after the World Trade Center attacks. A whir of fellow feeling and compassion broke out, if only to be subsumed, days later, by the drumbeat of war.  But it’s difficult for me to imagine what possible good can be accomplished by the “we” Secretary Clinton means when she says “we have to steel our resolve to respond”—the nationalist “we” that includes the police, the prisons, the military (the appropriate place for AR-15s, I’m told), the FBI, the intelligence agencies, the whole array of state mechanisms for violence and control. In the aftermath of tragedy, I have much more confidence in other, smaller versions of “we.” Much more intimate, specific versions of “us.” The “we” enacted at a block party. On a picket line. On a dance floor. At a nightclub.

By all means, let’s do something together. But not something in “the spirit of 9/12.” Let’s do something else.

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