Twelve Songs of Dignity

dragon-sun-woman

 

No more manager scenes. Resistance this time.

i. John of Patmos understood. In his apocalyptic vision he saw a great sign in heaven—a Woman clothed with the sun, her womb struggling to bring forth new life, who so antagonizes the Powers (Powers, represented by a Dragon, which deceive) that they sweep to earth a third of the stars. The Woman flees to a plot of land which is prepared to nourish her for a time and times and half a time —1,260 days!

ii. Orishas are Yoruban deities. Some of them crossed the Atlantic on slave ships. One of them, Oya, is an Orisha of winds, violent storms, lightning, birth, and death. Named for a river in Niger which has nine tributaries, she has been torn by the nine children she bore.

iii. An apocalypse is the full revelation of the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge so well articulated and widespread that it necessarily brings with it the destruction of the present age.

iv. Dynamite Hill was the nickname given to Center Street, the site of multiple drive by bombings in Birmingham, Alabama which itself was known by the sobriquet “Bombingham”. Between the 1940s and 1960s, there were some forty bombings in a city known for the viciousness of its segregationist sentiments and practices.

Center Street marked the residential color line running through the area of Birmingham known as Smithfield. Whites claimed the land to the west. Blacks were consigned to the land to the east. At the top of the hill, prosperous middle class Blacks steadily chipped away at the boundary as zoning laws were successfully challenged. As it chipped away, occupying White land, the Ku Klux Klan pushed back with fires, gun shots in the night, and dynamite.

Theodora Shores, the wife of NAACP attorney Arthur Shores, once found a case of dynamite in her garden. Her home was a frequent target of mob violence which led to a Shores family ritual: hit the floor and crawl to safety.

The frequency of fires and bombs prompted a neighborhood group called the Dynamite Hill Defenders, a rifle patrol, to defend their properties from attack.

v. Mary, her son, Jesus, growing in her womb, sang a resistance song about bringing down the powerful from their thrones and filling the hungry with good things. So dangerous was she that she had to flee to the hill country of Judea. When her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who also was pregnant, heard Mary’s approach, she cried out loudly, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth’s own child leaped within her womb.

vi. Susan Diane Mitchell has borne nine children all of whom survive. She lives now on Center Street and 11th Court North. Inspired by Dynamite Hill’s legacy of resistance, courage, and self-determination, its community spirit, and the sight of revolutionary Angela Davis’s former home across the way, in 2015 Mitchell initiated the Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust with support from the Magic City Agriculture Project. The Project emphasizes democratic decision making in the development of sustainable, cooperative agriculture. Mitchell and her beloved partner, Rev. Majadi Baruti, find spiritual nourishment in remembering the Black Goddess.

vii. The Black Goddess bears a resemblance to the Virgin of Guadalupe who is a representation of the Woman who fought the Dragon. Clothed with the sun and with stars on her cloak, she stands on the moon, pregnant. Known in Mexico now as the Queen of the Americas, the madonna first appeared to an indigenous man near Tepeyac sometime after the Conquest. The Spanish had destroyed a temple to the Aztec’s mother goddess, replacing it with a chapel dedicated to their European goddess, Mary. But resistant indigenous people knew she was, in fact, Tonantzin.

viii. In 2014, Birmingham had been chosen as the site of the 2021 World Games. With tax incentives, the choice accelerated the development of Downtown Birmingham. For residents of the Smithfield Community, the first community west of Interstate 65 and Downtown Birmingham, “development” is a euphemism for “gentrification” or the displacement of the low and moderate income residents who already lived there.

ix. Susan Mitchell and Majadi Baruti have a home in Smithfield. In the land around the house, they grow food to eat, sell, give away, or barter. A registered urban farm, they named it Ua Mer which means Beloved Water. The name was chosen in solidarity with the millions of women around the world have no access to clean, nourishing water.

The Land Trust Susan established is part of a plan to provide access to affordable housing and sustainable agriculture in the five predominantly African American Smithfield neighborhoods through a process of land adoption. A cooperative, the idea is that the Trust will own the land but individual families will have access to their own plot. There, they will give back to Mother Earth more than they receive.

For Susan, the Trust is an act of resistance and remembrance.* Her resistance is not only to gentrification, but it is resistance to the toxicity of living on earth in the present age. She dreams of creating small villages where people live communally, share what they have, acknowledge the indigeneity of land, and where they can have a home to care for.

The Trust is also an act of remembrance of a time before patriarchy, before large scale agriculture, and before capitalism when land was not owned but was worked by women. Susan remembers the time before the Garden spoken of in Genesis.

x. The Black Goddess whom Susan and Majadi remember is the crystallization of this long ago time when the black or brown or red earth was our Mother whose womb provided home and hearth, living waters, clean food, and safety.

xi. In an act of resistance, members of indigenous communities all across Colombia marched to demand the country’s leaders adhere to the terms of a peace agreement. They said, each and every one with the red and green flag held high, with pain and anger for their fallen comrades at the hands of the government for the sole reason of defending their territories, the platform of struggle and the principles of unity, land, culture, and autonomy called them to defend life, Mother Earth, and every being that inhabits it. They called each and every indigenous in one voice to sing a single song of dignity.

xii. So angry was the Dragon with the Woman that it tried to drown her but the earth came to her rescue, opened up its mouth, and swallowed the river pouring from the mouth of the Dragon.

*Many thanks to Susan Diane Mitchell for explaining what the Black Goddess, Ua Mer farm, and the Land Trust mean to her, in a phone conversation, October 31, 2017.

Ellin Sterne Jimmerson

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