This week on the show, resistance and revolutionary poetry. Spoken word poet Aja Monet talks about free speech, accountability, the poet June Jordan, and the fight for Palestinian liberation. All that, and her new book, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter.
Laura Flanders:So, what does it mean to be a freedom fighter in today's America? What about globally? Aja Monet thinks deeply about the meaning of solidarity and revolution, revolutionary solidarity, you might say. What's it look like, and not just on the page or in performance, but in our lives? She's a poet, activist, recording studio co-owner, and she is an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian people. I'm happy to welcome her to the studio. Aja, welcome to the show.
Aja Monet:Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Laura Flanders: How did you get involved in the work around Palestine and the rights of the Palestinians?
Aja Monet:My first introduction to the struggle for Palestinian liberation was by the name of a young woman, Tahani Salah. She's a young poet who also was a part of Urban Word NYC, which was a lot of my politicized education. I mean, poetry for me was never separate of the political because those are the spaces before this current movement moment where people were talking about black lives mattering and talking about police brutality and sexual abuse and gender violence and all these things. They were speaking out against these things. At the time, it was kind of taboo because you go into a poetry reading and you're like, oh god, they're gonna be talking about this stuff, but now people see what they were doing and what they were trying to do with poetry, and so Tahani was the one that was always writing poems about this, and then I started to read more. Suheir Hammad was writing about it. I learned about June Jordan. So, that was my introduction to kind of understanding.
They said they were victims. They said you were Arabs. They called your apartments and gardens guerrilla strongholds. They called the screaming devastation that they created the rubble, then they told you to leave, didn't they? Didn't you read the leaflets that they dropped from their hotshot fighter jets? They told you to go, 135,000 Palestinians in Beirut, and why didn't you take the hint? Go. There was the Mediterranean. You could walk into the water and stay there. What was the problem? I didn't know, and nobody told me, and what could I do or say anyway? Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that paid for the bombs and the planes and the tanks that they used to massacre your family, but I am not an evil person. The people of my country aren't so bad. You can't expect but so much from those of us who have to pay taxes and watch American TV. You see my point? I'm sorry. I really am sorry.
A few years fast forward, I built a relationship with a woman by the name of Maytha Alhassen, who we met at the Abiodun Oyewole's Home of the Last Poets, who's been like a mentor, a godfather to me, and she was doing work on Arab-American, African-American solidarity, and she was helping Ahmad Abuznaid from Dream Defenders do this delegation where they wanted to bring black activists, writers, just influential people to Palestine to see for themselves what is going on and how that relates to the state violence that's going on here, and so she was like, "I think a poet needs to be on the delegation," which was unique for her to insert because most of the people on the delegation were community organizers or activists, and she saw Malcolm X. She studied a lot of Malcolm X's letters, and she would see that he loved poetry and he could quote Arabic poetry and he would talk about a lot how the poetry was a part of how he was politicized, so it was a connection made there.
Laura Flanders:We played some of the video of your Dream Defender delegation to Palestine when we had a Patrisse Cullors on the show, and the Patrisse talked about the similarities or the connections that the people in the movement for black lives and the Palestinian people found on that trip. Some of that is now taking the form of continued activism around the relationship between the Israeli defense forces, their military, their army, and US police departments. It's called Deadly Exchange. Do you want to talk at all a little bit about that, or share any of that sense of where the connections are as you've come to learn more about them?
Aja Monet:Well, as I learned about the connections, I haven't been working a lot in that. I know Patrisse is trying to do a little bit more about making those connections for the movement and being able to really illustrate what those are. For us, what we learned was that we talk and we often try to uplift the counter narrative of what policing has done and how it has dehumanized black people in this country and the ways in which black people are not protected, and we talk a lot about after Ferguson the militarization of policing, and that was the biggest thing that really shocked young activists was that you have tanks coming into neighborhoods and you have people in riot gear and just you didn't feal ... Very strangely, you realize you weren't in America very quickly. You felt like you were in a war zone.
So, in that we had Mariam Barghouti who was a Palestinian young woman who was sending Tweets to folks in Ferguson and making those connections, like this is how you deal with teargas, this is how you respond to militarized police, and then we found out in more conversation that there are many police officers who get trained in Israel and vise versa who come here, and so there's a direct correlation between this state violence that is happening in our communities, and I think we're trying to find ways to dismantle this relationship and to make it so that Americans are more aware of where their tax dollars are going.