Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Words for the Weary

By Frederick Joseph

In our violently turbulent world, where the noise of chaos often drowns the sounds of hope, we stand, sometimes feeling like mere silhouettes against an immense, uncaring universe.

We shout, our voices ragged with desperation for humanity, for a semblance of decency, in a world seemingly refusing to hear our pleas. Feeling as if it is a shout into the void, echoing back only our own fears and frustrations.

We shout for Gaza, for the Congo, for Sudan, for bodily autonomy, for the houseless, for the trans community, for the queer community, for teachers, for better pay, for a chance to buy a home, for a future, for a present.

Yet, in the heart of this despair, lies a truth often veiled by the shadow of our doubts: things are not as bleak as they often seem. And I believe part of my purpose as a writer is to remind us of this fact. Though, it is often difficult to do so.

 

Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Most of my days are stitched together with the delicate threads of words and ideas, often devoted to the pursuit of what I believe can help move the world forward. I write, with a heart both hopeful and heavy, about the paths we must journey for progress, the bridges we must build over chasms of ignorance, greed, and despair. My words, I hope, serve as a light, casting a gentle yet revealing glow upon the shadows that shroud our collective destination, illuminating a way out of the darkness that clings stubbornly to the edges of freedom.

Yet, as I do this work, a confession must be made — a recognition of the weight that this journey of progress bears upon the shoulders of myself, and anyone working to create change. It is a heaviness that makes it difficult for things not to seem impossible some days. I’ve been thinking about this weight a great deal lately.

A few days ago, an unsettling reality began openly unfolding across the digital landscape. Behemoths such as TikTok and Meta, found themselves at a crossroads shaped by the urging of pro-Israel celebrities and organizations. Their request was for these companies to wipe their platforms clean of pro-Palestinian narratives and content. As expected, these companies complied, their algorithms and policies becoming both judge and executioner. In this purge, content was erased, voices were silenced, and many found themselves exiled from these digital realms for the mere act of advocating on behalf of innocent lives in Gaza.

In clamoring for a ceasefire and crying for governments to help put an end to the atrocities that have taken the lives of over 13,000 Palestinians, I, too, became one of the many people removed from TikTok during this purge.

My banishment came as a stark reminder of the fragility of our digital existence. My posts, heartfelt, earnest, and informed, were deemed unsuitable, and thus I was cast out. Rather, it might be more apt to say my posts were deemed — not on message for those in power — thus I became a threat to eliminate.

But, days later, in a twist as unexpected as it was welcome, I found my TikTok expulsion lifted. My account was restored, thanks to an outcry from those following me on other platforms. A small beacon in a murky sea of censorship.

I have grown accustomed to this dance of resistance and suppression. Finding my books exiled from school shelves, my voice muffled on Twitter ever since Elon Musk took over the platform, and countless companies deciding that I can’t be brought in for speaking engagements, identifying me as too “divisive.”

My only crime to receive these punishments is maintaining an unwavering voice against the machinations of oppression, a voice that refuses to be tamed or tempered by the expectations of those who would rather maintain their privilege. The list of those receiving similar treatment is growing quickly — especially if they have been found to be supporting Palestinians.

Actors such as Susan Sarandon and Melissa Barrera have been dropped by their agents and booted from films for openly calling for an end to the carnage in Gaza. My dear friends, authors and educators, Saira Rao and Regina Jackson, were also dropped by their talent representation for the exact same reason. And countless others have found themselves placed in a corner or stifled by their employers and universities as well.

As I said, I’m sadly used to this. Yet still, in these sorts of moments, a profound weariness takes hold. It’s a fatigue that seeps into the marrow, not just because our pleas for justice and humanity are swept away in the indifferent currents of expediency, but because each erasure is a testament to how the struggle for progress is so often perennially marginalized, pushed to the peripheries by those in power. A mere push of a button, meeting between executives, or email sent from a wealthy individual, can silence millions.

In these long hours under the weight of everything happening in the world, I’ve been considering this weariness, as I know it must be cloaking us all like a heavy, unshakable fog. This tiredness, it’s more than just a lack of sleep or a need for rest. It’s the kind of exhaustion that comes from carrying a dream so grand and heavy that it often feels like holding the sky on your back.

It can feel like you’re constantly pushing against a tide that seems all too ready to sweep you away, so much time spent fighting battles that seem to regenerate just as quickly as they are struck down. As if the boulder of progress is perpetually rolled uphill only to tumble back down under the weight of systemic oppression and entrenched prejudices.

This is part of the legacy of generations who have reached for liberation, only to have our fingers brushed, bruised, and broken by the unyielding grasp of a world that seems determined to uphold genocide, famine, police brutality, houselessness, and oppression. It is a relentless struggle, knowing with an unshakeable conviction, that you are aligned with the right side of history — yet treated as if you are the villain.

The fights we fight, the work we do, the beliefs we hold on to — they are not easy. But as I said, things are not as bleak as they often seem.

The very fact that you’re reading this, is a glimmer that flickers in the dark. Despite our exhaustion, we must understand that what we are doing is working. We are, indeed, moving the needle. Slowly but surely towards an equitable world.

I know this for sure. Because if our struggles were fruitless, if our voices were merely whispers in the wind, then why would the forces that stand against us be so vehement in their efforts to push us back? If our cries for the people of Gaza weren’t working, if our books combating oppression weren’t teaching, and if our arms locked in protest weren’t opening eyes — they wouldn’t be trying so hard to stop us.

You can see it in the way the ground beneath us shakes with the fear of those who have long stood unchallenged, in the way the status quo quivers at the prospect of change. The relentless efforts to silence us, to erase our narratives, to paint us as the antagonist of a story we did not write, are testaments to the power that lies within our collective voice.

It is a power birthed from resilience, of a history steeped in the relentless pursuit of what is just and true. It is the power of people who have learned to make a way out of no way, who have turned pain into possibility, and despair into a relentless drive for progress. We have been here before, in the shadow of giants who have fought similar battles, who have laid the groundwork for these moments, these movements. Our weariness is an heirloom, but so is our strength, our ability to stand in the face of adversity and declare, with unwavering conviction, that we will not be moved.

Those in power, trying to maintain the old ways, they are afraid of us because they know we can win. We can have more. We can have better.

This truth, it is a balm to the soul, a ballad of encouragement in the midst of our storms. It says that our fight is not in vain, that each step forward, no matter how small, is a victory against those who would have us remain buried by outdated ideologies and oppressive systems. Our progress may be incremental, it may be slow, and it may be met with resistance at every turn, but it is progress nonetheless.

I know so many of us are weary from the journeys we’ve endured. Our legs, heavy with the weight of a path long traveled, and our eyes, reservoirs of tears, tell of a struggle deeply felt. Our hearts, fluttering and uncertain, bear the scars of hurt. But we must know this: it’s working. This tiredness we feel is the imprint of change, a sign that our efforts are shaping the world.

We can rest, yes. We must. For in rest, we find renewal. But we cannot stop. Our journey forward is lit by the lanterns of those who walked before us, a path of progress and perseverance.

So let your legs carry you, not just with the weight of weariness, but with the knowledge that each step is a declaration, a small yet significant defiance against a world reluctant to transform. Let your eyes continue to weep, for in every tear, there is a truth that cannot be silenced, a depth of feeling that speaks more eloquently than words ever could. And your heart, let it feel the pain of everything that needs to be reimagined in this world. Let it break and heal and break again, for it is in this relentless cycle of hope and hurt that we find the courage to fight harder for what’s right.

When the weariness feels too heavy to bear, remember, it’s not just a cloak — it’s a banner. A banner of your commitment, your courage, your unyielding resolve to forge a world more just, more kind, more equitable.

Just like you, I’m exhausted from these many battles. But God damn it if they aren’t worth it.

Frederick Joseph is an independent writer whose debut collection of poetry, “We Alive, Beloved,” is on preorder now. You can find more of his work at substack.com/@frederickjoseph.

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