Must-Reads and the Life Affirming Power of Cake

During the most difficult moments of my own life, I have learned that laughter, or the smile of a loved one, can momentarily save us.

Must-Reads and the Life Affirming Power of Cake
(Image: Canva)

From bomb threats at libraries to the time bomb embedded in a recent SCOTUS decision, here are some of the most important stories I’ve read this week.

Students, Gaza and a New Vision of Safety by Sarah Jaffe. “From 9/11 to Covid, Nusrath added, ​’safety’ has been redefined for this generation of students, and they are in turn redefining it themselves. ​’It’s not that each person gets to decide for themselves what is safe, but each person is also responsible for working with another person’s definition of safety. And that’s, in the end, what leads to collective safety.’”

Red states strike deals to show controversial conservative videos in schools by Hannah Natanson and Laura Meckler. “Some of PragerU’s videos have drawn criticism for factual inaccuracies, especially for a fictionalized animated clip that portrays famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass defending the nation’s Founding Fathers’ support of slavery.”

Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to undermine China during pandemic by Chris Bing and Joel Schectman. “The clandestine operation has not been previously reported. It aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other life-saving aid that was being supplied by China, a Reuters investigation found. Through phony internet accounts meant to impersonate Filipinos, the military’s propaganda efforts morphed into an anti-vax campaign.”

How I Smuggled a Plant Into My Prison Cell by Jeffrey McKee. “If caught, I would be taken to a holding cell and strip-searched, and possibly be made to visit a psychologist. I also ran the risk of ‘violating an unwritten rule,’ a catch-all infraction.”

New York Library Receives Bomb Threat After Drag Story Hour by Phil Morehart. “The email arrived as the town prepared to host its first LGBTQ Pride parade and celebration later in the day. The email referenced the drag story hour and threatened to kill the email recipient, who is a library employee, and ‘your drag queens,’ director Ivy Gocker said.” 

More Than Half of Migrants Forced to Leave City Shelters Immediately Returned, Chicago Officials Say by Heather Cherone. “The acknowledgement that approximately 500 people would be unhoused months after arriving in Chicago raises new questions about plans by officials to start evicting families with school-age children from city shelters Monday. The academic year for Chicago Public Schools students ended Friday, eliminating the dispensation granted to families with children.”

There’s a Time Bomb Hidden In the Supreme Court’s Abortion Pills Decision by Madiba K. Dennie. “This is how the conservative legal movement works: Even when the outcome is, relative to the alternative, good, the conservative justices find ways to set the conservative legal movement up for future success.”

Biden’s border restrictions are stranding climate migrants in extreme heat by Ayurella Horn-Muller. “With much of the southwest baking under record temperatures, immigrants’ rights advocates worry President Joe Biden’s decision to effectively close the border to asylum seekers for the foreseeable future will endanger lives and further marginalize climate-displaced people seeking refuge in the U.S.”

Rebuilding the Left Is Crucial to Stemming the Surge of Europe’s Far Right by C.J. Polychroniou. “The growing economic inequalities inside different EU member states also provided fertile ground for the spread of far right ideology as mainstream left-wing parties had fully capitulated themselves to the European project and to neoliberalism.”

‘Remote’ Amazonian Tribes Have Been Using the Internet for a Long Time by Jason Koebler. “Many Marubo people have been using modern technology—including the internet—for generations, and have also been debating what it means for their identity and culture the whole time.”

A Resource for Cultivating Solidarity

I wanted to let you all know about a new resource I’m excited about. “Five Questions for Cultivating Solidarity When Responding to Political Repression” is a new tool from Community Justice Exchange that can help people commenting or reporting on political repression avoid common anti-solidarity traps. Too often, people seeking to support movements wind up reinforcing ideas that erase long histories of subjugation or that divide protesters into categories of good and bad (or “violent” and “nonviolent”). Sometimes, these missteps can have the effect of legitimizing state violence or aggrandizing the institutions that are responsible for repression. The creators of this resource have identified five common traps that erode solidarity, and are offering some tips to avoid them. They write, “As abolitionists, we oppose all criminalization, in solidarity with people criminalized for living their everyday lives, and with people criminalized for any social movement resistance work.”

If you want to learn more about this resource and the thinking behind it, I recommend checking out this webinar on June 18, hosted by Haymarket Books. Kamau Franklin, Dylan Rodriguez, Jocelyn Simonson, and Dean Spade will talk about this new tool, which invites journalists, organizers, and others who contribute to public discourse to resist frameworks that stigmatize resistors and legitimize repression. 

Final Thoughts

Some of you may be familiar with Gaza Funds, a project that connects people to crowdfunding campaigns for individuals and families from Gaza. Each time a user reloads the website, a new campaign is highlighted. Campaigns for sick or injured Palestinians and fundraisers close to reaching their goals are prioritized. Organizers have been encouraging supporters to donate and to “adopt” particular fundraisers by regularly sharing and spreading awareness about those campaigns. Some of my friends are spreading awareness about a particular campaign each week. Recently, a co-struggler reached out about a campaign for Ibrahim Abu Hany, who is known as the Baker of Gaza. Ibrahim has received media attention for continuing to bake cakes in Rafah, amid catastrophic bombings and mass displacement. Ibrahim resumed his work, despite the ongoing disasters he and his neighbors have endured, because of the emotional requests he has received for his cakes. A man whose child was seriously injured told Ibrahim that his son had woken up in a hospital, after being under anesthesia, and asked when he could expect his birthday cake. Another man, who was living in a tent, pleaded for a wedding cake. “It’s the night of my life,” the man said. 

Ibrahim has ten family members, so the cost of evacuating them all from Gaza is high. They won’t make it out without our help.

When I think about Ibrahim and his work, I think about the importance of joy in our collective efforts to survive. Those who emphasize the importance of joy are sometimes derided as not understanding the severity of human struggle. Amid climate collapse, the rise of global fascism, and the annihilatory violence of militarism, some people think it is trite and unserious to speak of joy. However, for those who are already steeped in apocalyptic realities, the need for laughter and celebration is obvious. To assert one’s right to smile, to feel happiness or amusement, or to make someone else feel special is to resist despair. Cultivating joy in desperate times is the work of cradling our humanity. 

During the most difficult moments of my own life, I have learned that laughter, or the smile of a loved one, can momentarily save us. In dark times, a flash of joy can keep the world bright enough for us to imagine enduring another day. To defend life, we must affirm it. Rafeef Ziadah famously said that Palestinians “teach life,” and I believe that Ibrahim is offering an important lesson. He has helped his neighbors experience joy in a time of genocide. That is necessary and remarkable work. So, let’s do our part, and help Ibrahim and his family escape the horrors of Israel’s violence. You can join me in contributing to Ibrahim’s crowdfund here.

Much love,