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To those who were here before us

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This post first appeared on Laila Abdelaziz’s site four days ago in anticipation of the Democratic Party platform committee meetings in Orlando that concluded last night with the defeat of a resolution to include words recognizing Palestinian opposition to settlements and occupation.

This upcoming weekend, a 187-member committee will meet in Orlando to consider the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, following a series of first-of-their-kind public meetings where a smaller, 15-member subcommittee drafted the party’s platform.

Perhaps a sign of growing divisions within the Democratic Party, this year’s platform drafting process has been particularly interesting to follow.

In a compromise pushed for by the Sanders campaign, the Democratic National Committee conceded to appointing 4 members to the committee (DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’ selections), allowed the Clinton campaign to appoint 6 members, and allowed the Sanders campaign to appoint 5 members.

Typically, the DNC appoints all members of the drafting committee, therefore maintaining full establishment control of the party platform.

But, as a result of this Sanders campaign move, the public has been granted particularly unique and thorough access to the ideological differences between Clinton and Sanders vis-à-vis the opposing agendas proposed in the meetings by each respective campaign’s appointees.

Before arriving at the final draft, the drafting subcommittee collected public testimony on issues of importance to Democrats across the country and amended and debated what the party’s official position on these issues should be.

The result of these meetings is this draft party platform.

Maybe more so than anything else, a political party is its platform. It is the ideals, principles, and ambitions a party is willing to identify, name, and commit to. It is an aspirational document, a moral compass for party leaders and members, and a defining statement to the outside world explaining what the party is willing to stand for.

That’s what I expect a party platform to be and so, as a reluctant Democrat, I’ve been particularly interested in following this year’s platform drafting process to develop a deeper understanding of where the party is heading.

As I was watching the latest drafting committee meet, I was preparing myself for three things: I wanted to see for myself how many progressive policies the committee would strike down (and how), I wanted to hear Professor Cornel West and James Zogby talk about Palestine and the Middle East, and I wanted to see what Deborah Parker, a Native American activist, was all about. They are 3 of the 5 Sanders campaign appointees to the drafting committee.

I have always had a romantic sentimentality towards the first people. I am Palestinian, after all, and colonists conveniently overlooked us both when declaring their new nations on top of ours.

As I watched the proceedings, the committee struck down a lot of key provisions I thought it needed to boldly accept to prevent any further degradation of leftism within the Democratic Party. Professor West chimed in as much as he could with refreshing critique and honesty and James Zogby, surprisingly yet unsuccessfully, tried to get the party to commit to a “no military solution” resolution on Syria.

I continued watching, already feeling so defeated, as the committee finally arrived at Deborah Parker’s amendment. And, as the committee chair, Representative Elijah Cummings, prepared to give Ms. Parker the floor, the gravity of what was about to happen was already clear as he extended her allotted time to 5 minutes.

I listened halfheartedly— half cleaning my house, half listening to slow and dry political-speak.

“We have a profound legal and moral responsibility to the Indian tribes,” Deborah Parker read.

I stopped cleaning and started listening…

“…throughout our history, we have failed to live up to that trust.”

I’m not familiar with Ms. Parker so as she continued reading, I started wondering why her voice was shaking, why she seemed so nervous. Part of me wondered if it was because she was speaking about the Indian nations so unapologetically.

She continued, “we recognize the inherent sovereignty of Indian nations and will work to enact laws and policies that strengthen, not reduce, the powers of Indian nations over people who interact with them in Indian Country. We will…”

As I continued wondering why her voice seemed off, I glanced at my laptop screen and realized that Ms. Parker, beautiful in her gentle yet firm presence, was choking on her words and crying.

My eyes were stuck on her in that moment; caught in her self-restraint as she fought back tears… I watched the way her eyes pretended to be okay while the skin on her forehead wrinkled up from all the tension in her heart. A pain I too am very familiar with.

I was lost in her for so long. She was sobbing now and couldn’t speak.

James Zogby picked up where she left off, “We will…”

As I listened, the meaning of this moment hit me so hard, I found myself crying with Ms. Parker. I realized what I was watching and it shattered me.

I wouldn’t know it for a few more minutes, but I was watching history, in a way. As Congresswoman Barbara Lee would later point out, this moment was the first time the Democratic Party platform “acknowledges the first people of the United States.”

(Although the Indian nations were not the first people of the United States, they were the people whose bodies and lands the United States was built on.)

I was not ecstatic for Ms. Parker and the Indian nations for this first-of-its-kind recognition. I was not impressed. My heart was shattered.

In a room yielding so much power, within the empire that destroyed her people and placed them in a position of near extinction, Deborah Parker was now pleading for their survival.

And as I realized this, my attention went back to Mr. Zogby who was now reading the language in the amendment that outlined the policies needed in order to quite literally salvage the survival of the people that were here before us, a reminder of our nation’s first and greatest sin, a sin we have yet to atone for.

Mr. Zogby was reading how exactly the Democratic Party was going to commit to saving the first people and I was becoming so angry. He continued, reading words like, “chronic,” “meaningful,” “sufficient,” and “self determination.”

All strong words, especially for Democrats.

Deborah Parker interrupted; she was ready to pick it back up again, “We will…”

Ms. Parker was now reading about chronic social failures in her community– homelessness, inadequate education, lack of sovereignty, racism, crime, an inadequate health care system, disproportionate incarceration, loss of voting rights…

“We acknowledge the past injustices and the misguided, harmful federal and state policies and actions based on outdated and discredited values and beliefs that resulted in the destruction of the Indian nation’s economies, social and religious systems, the taking of their lands, and the creation of intergenerational trauma that exists to this day. We believe that we have a moral and profound duty to honor, respect, and uphold our sacred obligation to the Indian nations and the Indian peoples…”

“Outdated and discredited values.”

“Destruction.”

Taking of land.

“Creation of intergenerational drama.”

As a Palestinian, these words resonated deeply, all traumas I am intimately familiar with.

Ms. Parker reached the end of her amendment and the committee went on to thank her. Professor West called the amendment (and specifically its length), appropriate and defensible, and, if anything, not long enough.

Chairman Cummings preceded the vote on the amendment with these words: “diversity is not our problem; it is our promise.”

He impressed me, with his immediate recognition that Ms. Parker cried because of her “passion,” and that this passion was coming from “pain.” Pain, passion, purpose, as he said.

In her amendment language, Deborah Parker was demanding what was “critical to the survival of” the Indian people. And a realization grew in me that we had allowed ourselves to get to this moment where all the pain that transcends all those many generations of oppression, appropriation, and trauma erupted through history into the tears and voice of Ms. Parker.

The committee went on to pass the resolution unanimously followed by a standing ovation to Deborah Parker and all that she was standing there in that moment for and on behalf of.

But I, again, was not impressed by the theater. I was hurt, especially knowing that, very shortly, we would arrive to the subject of Palestine and, in the very same room these 15 people just affirmed Deborah Parker’s demands for her people, they would reaffirm their dehumanization of mine.

The subject of Palestine finally came up and James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute, read an amendment directly drafted with Senator Sanders.

In short, the amendment sought to correct the Democratic Party’s deeply problematic and undemocratic position on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (U.S. Democrats are leading unconstitutional efforts to quell, subvert, and criminalize protected speech), called for an end to the “occupation and illegal settlements” (both legal, social, political, and economic realities), and affirmed equality for Israelis “and Palestinians” (how can equality ever be controversial?).

What should be no-brainer starting points for any serious diplomatic position on the issue of the Palestinian occupation were suddenly too radical for the majority of the Democrats. After lengthy debate, the members voted to reject the amendment 8 to 5 (with only the 5 Sanders appointees voting in support of the amendment and two members abstaining).

And just like that, as expected, the very same people reaffirmed the continuation of a trauma they had just acknowledged to be discredited and destructive onto the Palestinian people and their immediate fate.

How is it that we always let ourselves get to this?

As a Palestinian, I have always felt that I have no choice but to hope for a resolution for my people.

I carry a hope with me every single day that the near future holds a new chapter where Palestinian children will be born healthy and happy and with a passport and rights. A day where the most disgusting wall I have ever seen in my life will crumble. A day when my 85-year-old grandmother, who has lived her entire life in Palestine, will be able to freely travel the 20 miles to Jerusalem and pray in her beloved mosque. A day where preparing for visits does not include preparing for the trauma of military checkpoints, guns, soldiers, and dehumanizing interrogations.

I want there to be a future for the Palestinians where they are able to become the world’s number one exporter of oranges again and where olive trees can freely grow to become ancient one day.

But as I reflect on the current state of affairs in occupied Palestine, a recent conversation with a new friend surfaces. She is of the first people, my first sister in this world who can expose me to the pain of her and her people’s circumstances and history. I also realize now that I have never had a friend who was of this land’s Indian tribes. I’ve only ever known them from history books and museums, and most things in museums belong to dead people.

My friend warned me against this hope for my people that she immediately sensed in me; she told me that that very same hope was not able to do much for her people.

Recently, I was in the Art Institute of Chicago, lost in the 1930’s Harlem exhibit. A note on one of the images described the location captured as one that aimed to transform despair, not into hope, but into determination.

I realized, in that moment, why a friend long ago told me, after listening to me speak about Palestine, to be wary of turning despair into hope.

“You know what they say,” he said. “When despair turns to hope, cut the rope.”

I never understood what he meant. But, reflecting on injustice and seeing that note in the exhibit, I realized then.

We, oppressed communities, must not allow ourselves to get paralyzed by our hope, we must commit to turning our despair into determination. A determination “for justice at anytime, for anyone, anywhere,” as my very Palestinian Baba would say.

This weekend in Orlando, 187 Democrats have an opportunity to define the direction we move towards as a nation regarding the condition and fate of the occupied Palestinian people.

Rather than just hoping for peace, Democrats should go to Orlando determined to revisit the Sanders Palestine amendment, force a vote on it before all platform committee members, and pass it.

Our commitment to a solution should start with “truth-telling,” as Professor West declared in his defense of the Palestine amendment, and we should start by telling the truth about Palestine before a Palestinian woman has to sit in front of a committee to plead for survival from the very same institutions that threaten it.

About Laila Abdelaziz

Laila is a Florida-based community organizer. You can follow her on Twitter at @lailabdelaziz.

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7 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    July 10, 2016, 5:55 pm

    Thanks, Laila. I watched that dreary, plodding stuff on cspan, but didn’t catch this part of it, which I had waited for…they also dumped proposals to lift cap on social security income tax & change social security formula for COLA to reflect economic reality for geezers and disabled people; as well, they voted down making The Federal Reserve Bank a public entity responsible to the public, inter alia. These people can aspire to recognize the reality of the native American situation, finally, and don’t blink an eye to ignore when the same principle applies to your people, not to mention the average Jewish Israeli gets more funding per year per capita from the US government than the average US citizen here in America gets from his or her own government.

  2. Marnie
    Marnie
    July 11, 2016, 6:36 am

    Appreciate this Ms. Abdelaziz. I can’t and won’t expect anything good for Palestine to come from an american president, unless it’s possibly Dr. Jill Stein and even then have too many doubts. Not so much about her, but the system she would be working in.

    The native people, the first people, are in as retched a state as they were in the 1890s. African Americans have to remind the rest of the country that #Blacklivesmatter. How the hell can a country as F$#@& as the united states do anything right at this point in its very brief, horrific history? By no means do I suggest giving up the fight but the policies and policymakers that created so much chaos, heartache, pain, death and destruction can’t be the ones who come up with the solutions. Better hearts and minds are needed and the united states has to step down.

  3. oneangrycomic
    oneangrycomic
    July 11, 2016, 8:24 am

    I see the Democrats have their own “Hateful Eight”!!!

    • larick
      larick
      July 11, 2016, 2:17 pm

      What must be understood is that First Americans/Indigenous Americans and Palestinians are both victims of the same historical phenomena: and its “total war” terrorism. Include Canada, Australia , Rhodesia, Apartheid S. Africa, et al. Each has undergone various degrees of genocidal aggression whereby indigenous peoples have been methodically driven off their land, each accompanied by a specific racist ideology justifying the elimination of the indigenous people.
      See the book, An Indigenous History of America, by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.

  4. James Canning
    James Canning
    July 15, 2016, 1:20 pm

    American Indians are “struggling against colonialism”? Nonsense.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      July 15, 2016, 1:46 pm

      “American Indians are “struggling against colonialism”? Nonsense.”

      Sure, the entire confrontation came to a mutually satisfying and productive conclusion.

    • MHughes976
      MHughes976
      July 15, 2016, 3:40 pm

      Native Americans were colonised, barbarously treated and driven near to annihilation but there has been a settlement whereby the First Nations people are now citizens of the society which the colonisers created. There are no exiled First Nations demanding a Right of Return. It would be a step forward if the Palestinians could get that far in Israel, but currently there is no chance of that.

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