Friday, April 13, 2012

They Will Not Let Us Mourn Our Dead

The following account of Joel Olson's funeral march in Flagstaff was written by Geoff; i saw it on a listserv and thought it was a poignant account of how the life of someone who worked to make the world a better place is being remembered, and how "Even in the most intimate moments such as mourning there is no escape from this system and the collective struggles that it creates" ...
This last weekend hundreds of people from around the U.S. Arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona to mourn the passing of Joel Olson: father, lover, friend, teacher, mentor, and comrade in struggle. From editing the punk rock magazine Profane Existence, to community organizing, to teaching critical race theory in the classroom, Joel touched countless lives with his brilliant intellect and deep love of people.

In addition to the official memorial at Northern Arizona University, where he taught, there was another gathering to celebrate his life and mourn his death. Folks in the local Latino community organized a rally and march to remember Joel, who was a founding member of The Repeal Coalition, a group of undocumented immigrants and their allies.

On sunday April 8 a crowd, dressed in white, gathered at Flagstaff's city hall. It was mostly comprised of Flagstaff's Latino community, as well as other friends, family, and comrades from far and wide. The event began with a prayer, spoken in Spanish and translated to English. Friends, family, and comrades, then spoke about Joel's work, life, and legacy. By the time the dance troupe performed, most of us were in tears.

We then proceeded to march peacefully down the sidewalk through downtown. An ad-hoc security team worked with march organizers to block traffic at intersections and communicate with drivers to keep the march safe and together. The drivers upon hearing, “Thanks for your patience. This is a funeral procession” all expressed their condolences and willingness to wait until the march passed.

However, as the march was returning to City Hall the police arrived and began aggressively demanding that the march obey traffic signals. They ignored the march organizers as they tried to explain that this was a funeral procession and that they were trying to keep the march safe and together. The police began screaming at the marchers and when they were ignored they pulled aside a Chicano organizer and demanded his ID. As a small crowd gathered around the police declared the organizer under arrest.

At this point it was clear that the police on the scene (all of whom were white) were unwilling to accommodate and respect our collective expression of grief. As the comrade was tackled to the ground, the marchers around him expressed their outrage. The police attempted, and failed, to arrest others. As they stuffed the arrested man into a cruiser, the police berated the angry crowd. “Is this how you honor Professor Olson's memory?” “Professor Olson is watching you act this way,” and “What would his family think of what you're doing?” Joel's sister, who was in the crowd, seemed particularly unimpressed by this last comment. Joel was a revolutionary and spent his life struggling against the police and the racist system they enforce. It was clear to all of us that he would have been proud of our resistance.

We walked the one block back to city hall shocked and in tears. Even in our attempt to mourn our fallen comrade we were not safe or immune from the violence of the state that Joel spent his life fighting. As we dispersed it was clearer than ever that resistance is not a hobby or a part time activity. Even in the most intimate moments such as mourning there is no escape from this system and the collective struggles that it creates. On saturday we were reminded that there is no dichotomy between the personal and the political. As long as oppression exists life is war. They will not let us mourn our dead.

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