A Meeting of Minds

Imagine a diner where the morning regulars are W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Arundhati Roy, Rigoberta Menchu, MC Nas,  Helen Keller, Adrienne Rich, Subcomandante Marcos, Emma Goldman, Will Rogers and Aime Cesaire. As you open the door, they are speaking of war.

Du Bois: “We are peddling freedom to the world and daring them to oppose it and bribing them kindly to accept it and dropping death on those who refuse it.” 

Roy: “Among the myriad freedoms claimed by the US government are the freedom to murder, annihilate and dominate other people. The freedom to sponsor despots and dictators across the world. The freedom to train, arm, and shelter terrorists.  The freedom to topple democratically elected governments…and most terrible of all, the freedom to commit these crimes against humanity in the name of ‘justice,’ ‘righteousness,’ and ‘freedom.’"

King: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Cesaire: “A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization.  A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.” 

Rogers: “You can’t say civilization isn’t advancing: in every war they kill you in a new way.”

Nas: “Political thugs in shark suits persuade us to pull triggers in army boots…” 

Marcos: “The entire world is in dispute between two projects of globalization. Globalization from above which globalizes conformity, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction, death and forgetting; and globalization from below which globalizes rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory, and the construction of a world with room for many worlds.”

Rich:  “If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live with dignity and hope, you must begin with the empowering of the most powerless.  You must build from the ground up.” 

X:  “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”

When the subject shifts to “The Color of Justice,” they are joined by James Baldwin, Michele Gibbs, and Paul Robeson: 

Baldwin: “The Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live.”

Gibbs: “in how many back alleys, open fields, dark parks/Did our bodies crumple, separate, flake/From the tar, feathers, knife, rifle, rope, and flame/While they portrayed us as the beasts/Oblivious to pain…" 

Robeson: "The leaders of this country can call out the army and navy to stop the railroad workers and stop the maritime workers; why can’t they stop the lynchers?”

Sonia Sanchez and Cherrie Moraga, Black Hawk, and Chiefs Crazy Horse and Seattle among others all join in on this common theme: 

“They tell us they want to civilize us. They lie. They want to kill us.”

Then Sojourner Truth walks in with two new recruits.  She says:  “America owes to my people some of the dividends.  She can afford to pay, and she must pay.  I shall make them understand that there is a debt to the Negro people which they can never repay. At least, then, they must make amends.”

Turiya Autry and Walidah Imarisha chime in: “Because I have the power to resurrect the past, train it like a pit bull and sic it on your ass!”

At which point Zora Neale Hurston emerges from the kitchen to “grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear.”  Seeing some ‘homies’ at another table, they join Mother Jones, Pearl Cleage, Barbara Smith, Sheila Rowbotham. Mary Brave Bird, Audre Lorde, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Miriam Makeba, Cecilia Rodriguez, and Gloria Anzaldua all riffin’ on “Ain’t I a Woman”. 

From a booth in the corner, Vietnamese Buddhist educator Thich Nhat Hanh observes: “By taking a look at your anger it can be transformed into the kind of energy you need/…a flower, though beautiful, will become compost someday, but if you know how to transform the compost back into the flower, then you don’t have to worry.”

By lunchtime, Rita Mae Brown, Sarah Jones, Dick Gregory, and Not4Prophet come in, working on a new routine.  Anyway, this café is open 24/7 with people you need to meet holding forth on every topic under heaven. The musical contributions are cool, too, from Woodie Guthrie to Horace Tapscott, Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder to Sun Ra, Ani DiFranco to The Coup.  Just choose your favorite groove. 

And check out the walls.  They are peppered with an array of graphics: cartoons, mural details, paintings, photos and collages which add their own commentary.

You won’t always agree with these people; they don’t always agree with each other. But their differences are tactical, accumulated experience pointing unswervingly toward popular power, communitarian values, and the mutual accountability that implies.  It is a group in which I am honored to be counted a member by my actions over time.  If you know people who should also be here, the editor invites you to include them. The more, the better. 

As Teishan Latner says, this book was created to fill a gap and to be of use.  It does more.  It galvanizes those of us committed to social transformation to enter the breach, once again.  It testifies to our common courage over the ‘long haul.’  It makes the Movement “irresistible.”  It reveals clearly, in the words of Mumia Abdul Jamal, that “the fact that I write at all reveals the utter failure of their intimidation tactics–as does the fact that you read.” And finally, in the closing quotation, for Teishan Latner’s generation and mine, too, it reminds us: “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”  -John Lennon

At the beginning of this review I suggested you take one copy of this book and call me in the morning.  Better still, get two, pass one on, and call me next year after you’ve absorbed one of its 365 pages every day and begun to act on the truths contained here.

La lucha sigue.

To buy a copy of “The Quotable Rebel” book, go to Common Courage Press. 

All royalties from this book are donated to support social justice initiatives.

Michele Gibbs is a writer, artist, teacher and activist living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her books include “Line of Sight, Island Images” and “Riffin’ to a Maroon Tune.”