The Work of Justice-Making by Xochitl Alvizo

Incarnation, Goddess spirituality, Xochitl Alvizo, god became fleshWritten two weeks ago on December 5, 2014, but offered still as some food for thought:

I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation. Hand on the plow, no looking back. I have even left town for the whole month of December in order to minimize the everyday distractions that are part of my life in Boston and increase my focus on writing. I’ve set up shop in my friends’ living room, surrounded by multiple windows, perfect natural lighting, and festive Christmas decorations. But, two days in, and I have yet to get into my dissertation writing groove.

So I am writing this blog post instead in an effort to work my way back to the dissertation. I read somewhere that writing is thinking – which is why dissertations, and every other kind of writing project, often change direction along the way. If writing is thinking, then, I’m hoping that writing this post will help me think my way back to the dissertation, because at the moment, all I can of think is, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.

I have Eric Garner’s repeated last words running through my head. I have the video images of him trying to tell the police to just leave him alone, that he hasn’t done anything to warrant their harassment. I have the images of him holding his hands in an open gesture stating, “Don’t touch me,” as he is taken to the ground by (at least) four police officers who overuse their force and quickly, collectively, even if unintentionally, kill him.

The killing of Eric Garner happened this past summer on July 17th, but the decision by the grand jury not to indict the NYPD officer who held Eric Garner in the hold that contributed to his death occurred recently on December 3rd. After the grand jury decision was announced, so soon after the other grand jury decision not to indict a white officer Darren Wilson for killing black teenager Mike Brown, people immediately took to the streets, unwilling to allow “business as usual” to continue – and rightly so.

Newspapers and newscasters across the globe are reporting on the unrest across the United States. This CNN report offers a sampling of the reports being made in various countries, of their reporting on the excessive use of force, the wave of indignation, and the institutional racism of the United States:

I want to be on the streets. I also want to put my body in the way of business as usual. Not just because of these more recent grand jury decisions, which in effect affirm that there is no protection for citizens against the injustices of our country’s policing system, but because this is business as usual. Increasingly, it is being made clear to us, to those of us willing to see, that these kinds of racist, violent, death-dealing incidents are business as usual, from a structural systemic point of view (as amina wadud’s recent post helps explain).

It is not easy to choose to see. There is a responsibility and a burden of accountability that comes with seeing. There is also a weight that comes with seeing. It feels heavy to see – heavy all over, psychically and bodily. Many people are therefore unwilling to see. They use excuses and strategies of denial, even strategies of dehumanization, in order not to see (read/see Sara Frykenberg’s recent post on the un/believability of the oppressed).  However, it is an imperative of justice that we, indeed, see.

See. Think. Act. This is a common expression in liberation theology (ver-pensar-actuar). It is shorthand for a methodology that begins by first seeing what is real and concrete, then reflecting critically and theologically upon what one sees, and finally of discerning how one is to act in response. I guess that is the process in which I currently find myself – the thinking and discerning process.  I see the racist structural and systemic injustices taking place (injustices not unrelated to our sexist and classist systemic realities – making them all the more familiar), and I want to act in response.

We all have our various parts of the work, justice-making work, to do. We have different talents to share and actions we are capable of contributing.  For me, being out there amidst the crowds of protestors is something I can do, something I am physically and psychically capable of doing. I find myself struggling to stay before my computer to do the work of my dissertation – also a contribution I intend to make to the justice-making work of the church. So I write in order to think – ver, pensar, actuar. With my hand on the plow, what is the action I am today called to make?

What is yours?

Xochitl Alvizo is a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.

Categories: Abuse of Power, General, In the News, Peacemaking, Racism

Tags: , , ,

11 replies

  1. Sadly the issues of systematic violence and racism in the police departments have not gone away in the past two weeks, though they are less prominent on the airwaves. . .


  2. It’s not just in the US, tho I don’t think WASP folks there have been so aware and sensitive to injustice and systemic violence before. I think it’s a step forward that people seem to be more aware now and willing to be involved in trying to change the situation. Perhaps that is the legacy of MLKjr and the 60’s?? Or perhaps more people are being effected? Or maybe we are actually starting to “think and feel further than our nose” ?

    Is there some way to marry your dissertation and your passion for justice so that they work together instead of being in conflict, Xochitl? Best wishes with that project.


  3. Thanks for writing this………..but you also need to get on with your dissertation. You already know this, of course. ;-)

    I tend not to participate in demonstrations because I get too emotional, which is likely to cause trouble for the people around me. The last one I marched in was in 2003. When I was a kid in Ferguson (a mile or so from where Mike Brown was killed), we were taught–and I believed–that the police were our friends. I guess that’s not altogether true anymore. And I agree with the previous comment (another Barbara) that it’s–obviously–not just the U.S. that is infiltrated with systemic injustice. We do indeed need to pay more attention to it. I’m glad we have so many people who are willing to get out there and protest. I hope they’re all safe.


  4. Thank you! The words will come. You are doing just fine. We will be privileged to read them.


  5. In the wake of my breast cancer this year, I have decided not to demonstrate. But I’m so proud that my daughter in NYC is out in the streets everyday. She went to her first demonstration at the age of 4 months and attended some other peace marches as a kid. But as an adult, she has put her efforts into her art…until now. Her outrage pushed her into the streets with many, many others. Unfortunately, Xochitl, you’ll have other opportunities to march. So you can decide to put that outrage, that energy, into your dissertation. Writing’s hard, but it’s worth it, especially when it results in your Ph.D.


  6. “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” -Goethe


  7. Demonstrating is important – an essential way to show a consensus of outrage and make injustice unacceptable in our society. But it is only one way. Uprooting the systemic injustices takes deep-seated changes in how we all think, feel, behave, and respond to one another, and those come about through decades, sometimes centuries or millennia, of everyday acts that never get noticed but that make revolutions – standing up, speaking out, deepening the relationships that create justice and so much more. Your dissertation is an important part of that work, as are so many things we all do everyday. We just need to recognize them for momentous actions that they really are.


  8. Thank you, dear Xochitl. May your mind, heart, and body be exactly where they are needed. May they all be in alignment no matter where you are. May you be at peace knowing that you are exactly where you need to be in each moment.


  9. Thanks so much for your post, Xochitl

    As a mid-life Buddhist clergy PhD student alienated from my contemplative community due to PhD Qual exams going on, and the people on the streets I want to join (I had a POW-MIA bracelet in 4th grade), I definitely feel your angst, Xochitl !

    Like you, I have to keep writing here (and am also sequestered in the mountains), trying to finish my first qual exam paper that thinks it is the dissertation! (yes those 2 faculty meeting dates for spring clearance of my proposal are lurking), when I would rather be setting effigies of myself on fire in front of the DOJ & Citicorp!

    My way of coping is to write for them, those lost to our socio-political-moral-economic monstrosities, with a commitment to do more for them. I also do a lot of online site story sharing to help keep the wheels of justice greased (M Ratner has gotten the Europeans to put USA torturers on a wanted list after 10 years of relentless documenting and legal filings). So that is also an example where nose-to-the-grind-work can pay off.

    I am with you in spirit, sister! Congratulations on finishing your doctorate! Hope to be joining soon!


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