Speech by Naomi Finkelstein, given at a meeting for the Poor People's Campaign
I am honored and glad to be here. I like coming together to talk about having hope in these dangerous times. I also am so proud of all of you. In Yiddish, my grandmother's tongue, we say kvell, to burst with pride.
Giving honor and deep gratitude to the Duwamish people whose land we are on. Without you, my family would have all been murdered. So thank you from my heart. And honoring my ancestors Maua Ajanker, my grandmother's rose, and Rae my great aunt batya- a lesbian was away back in the day. Reverend Gwen Hall, Judith Clark a poor femme who surely would've been in this room. I wish she had lived to be here. Chris Beahler who nurtured community wherever she went during and after her life, and Allan Gassman my childhood buddy, and my cousin Danny who both died of AIDS. Lastly my beloved friend Nancy without whom I would be dead. Some people get you through. Nancy was that for me. Anything I say that is of use comes from knowing and being loved and taught by these people. Anything that is messed up is mine alone. And I want to acknowledge my birth mama Maria, who I miss. My door to this time around. I am hers too. I hope to g-d I do her proud.
I got some bad news this week. Don't feel sorry for me. Just hear me out. Last year I almost died twice. You are thinking it's my heart ‘cause I'm fat right? Lol. No. It's my lungs. Ever since I was a little baby, my lungs give out in the face of grief. Pnuemonia at six months and at 11 and 22 and 40 and then last year. Phew last year.
Last year my beloved friend Nancy had died and Donald Trump got into office. I was already broken-hearted when he got in and then I collapsed .
Grief washed over me. I think in some ways I finally was grieving the AIDS crisis and many of my friends. Hundreds. Dying. With no one caring or trying to help. Hundreds of thousands died. And I feared under Trump disabled people would die in the hundreds of thousands again.
So my lungs stopped working. I went into respiratory arrest. I had five strains of that really bad cold. Ya know ? And I almost died. Twice.
I had to go to an awful nursing home. And my doctor says now she thought I'd never get out. She calls me a trooper because I rallied.
Here's why: I was doing physical therapy, which hurt a lot. And it was boring. The goal was to be able to walk to the bathroom. Then one day I saw a You Tube video, and Jennifer Williams and Brandy were singing 50 million of us are gonna march down south and tear down that wall.
There are 50 million Black people in America. That's who they are singing about. At the end of the song they sing we will do what we have to - to keep our people free. 50 million 100 million 200 million 300 million of us.
I got a new goal. One far more important to me.
And something sparked in me. I made vast strides. They asked why? I said Imma gonna go down south and tear that f'ing wall down.
Imma gonna join with others and be part of people doing what we have to in order to keep our people free.
Hope. I had a vision. I felt hope.
This is the season of freedom for Jews. Passover our ancient sacred ritual is almost upon us and the ancient rabbis said - don't say they were slaves. Say I was a slave and it was me not them who was delivered.
So I imagine what would it take for me to climb down into the beds of the red sea instead of picking up a rock to fight pharaohs army. What kind of faith and hope would I have to have? Who would be my prophet Miriam? Already in the sea guiding us, telling us not to look back but keep going. Quickly. Pick up the babies. Carry the old and the sick. And run. Run. RUN! For the other side!
Who is that for me?
Dr. William Barber is that for me. One of the people Bishop Yvette Flunder is another Prophet. He has a vision which resonates in my soul. He dares to have hope in a dangerous time. He is single minded and determined and reminds us to have each other back. Stop letting them divide us. I don't know about you but I need reminding of that cause I am cranky and people can get on my last nerve. I prefer my cat to be honest.
I imagine that Rev. Barber would be there at the red sea. Right there at the end so we could see him to know what we were running towards. Hope. It's freedom time. Come on y'all. Come on.
And my pal Aaron over there. He would be at our sides cheer leading just like his namesake. Keep going, keep going. Move your butts. Keep going. And Rev Bianca she would be shouting Don't leave anyone behind. Pick them up. Find the strength. We need each one of us. Pick each other up.
And me and Rabbi David and Ali. We'd be at the back with Pastor Kellie making sure everyone was through before the seas closed. Cause I ain't leaving that sea until every last one of you gets through. Even if you are crawling and I have to crawl with you. I ain't leaving you behind.
It is because of these leaders and because of something deep and ancient inside me that I am joining this fight.
I am not picking up a rock, which really is my nature. I am, after all, a poor street butch from the south Bronx. We are fighters. But I am taking the leadership of a prophet and I am not arguing with his strategy cause he's got a good plan. And I am going with the slaves through the red sea.
On this eve of freedom I want y'all to have hope and to remember we are the ones we have been waiting for.
The poor. The disabled. Trans folks and queers. Black folks and immigrants and and poor white folks working together. We are going into that sea and we together are gonna come out the other side and shout with joy. The mountains and the hills - our very earth -will clap their hands! When we go out with joy!
Pick each other up. Don't leave each other behind. Get ready. Prepare.
I was told this week that I might die. My doctor tells me it is iffy. But with my dying breath. With my sacred last breaths, perhaps. I am going to follow my prophets to freedom. You are my fellow slaves. Made strong by years of hard work and survival. Maybe broken by your journeys. Maybe deeply battle scarred. I honor those scars. I got such scars myself. Coming from people who worked hard and survived, and have beautiful scars. I am going into the sea with you.
I may die trying. But this is how I am going to go out if it comes to that. Going toward the other side. Going towards making freedom.
Please dear G-d. May I live to see it. But if I cannot, then let me at least die reaching for it.
We don't really remember the ones who stayed behind in Egypt. We celebrate and remember those who went into the wilderness and into the Red Sea. We remember and honor them who risked everything to make freedom.
I am going to be one of THAT crowd. Those folks across great divides... Those folks wanting freedom are my folks. Imma sticking with you.
In the S. Bronx we would say, lol, y'all are my crew, lol. The freedom making crew. Alright!
And I don't say that easily or lightly.
Dear G-d. May making freedom become our very heart. Become our very soul. Guide us through the waters and part the sea. If you do so we will be brave enough to go in and we will praise your mighty hand on the other side
Happy Passover Happy easter. Happy Spring. The earth made it through another hard winter. Phew. Take deep comfort in that. May we take care of Her.