THE REBEL QUEEN
Statues are incarnations of those we choose to honor in our public spaces. They are also testaments to how art breathes life into history. Spurred by the global Black Lives Matter movement, statues in the US that were raised to recast the South’s defeat in the Civil War have now been defaced and removed to protest glorifying that racist past.
Too many countries have tried to hide their role in benefiting from Africa’s exploitation, choosing instead to build statues of those who profited from it, like the one recently thrown into Bristol’s harbor, from where Africans were shipped across the Atlantic to endure centuries of dehumanization. Defacing and toppling statues from their pedestals is one form of protest. Unpacking history and learning from it is another.
A handful of cities have tried to do this quiet yet vital work. Bordeaux, France, for instance, has put up plaques that explain exactly how the slave trade enabled the city to erect its beautiful buildings. France’s second largest port for the slave trade shipped some 150,000 Africans to its then-richest colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1998, Karfa Diallo, a native of Senegal who moved to Bordeaux, founded Memoires & Partages, an association dedicated to never forgetting France’s role in the slave trade. He and others lead city tours that reveal history hiding in plain sight. Thanks to their long-term efforts, that work coming hand-in-hand with protests and demonstrations, now street names are being changed in Bordeaux.
Included in the tour is a statue of Modeste Testas, created by the Haitian sculptor Caymitte Woodly, who recently sculpted a bust of George Floyd. Modeste was an African woman who survived abduction at the age of 14, deportation from her homeland, then slavery and sexual exploitation for decades in Bordeaux and Haiti. When the man who owned her and for whom she bore children died, she was finally freed. Modeste lived to be over 100 years old, and she died in Haiti, the only country in the world borne from a revolution of the enslaved. A statue like this is a rarity. Why is this so?
Amnesia and injustice go hand in hand. It is much easier to ignore history (or avenge it), than to look it squarely in the face. The Fourth of July is known as Independence Day in the US, a celebration marking the fight against the colonial powers of England. This year, in the wake of our global reckoning with racism, our Independence Day should also be a day for reflecting on all people of African descent who fought for their right to be free from slavery and oppression, and who have been deliberately erased from history.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, is an old harbor warehouse that was once filled with sugar and rum for which Black lives were traded. In front of it now stands “I Am Queen Mary.” More than 20 feet tall, a regal Black woman sits on a throne, holding a torch in one hand and a knife for cutting sugar cane in the other. She was inspired by Mary Thomas, who led a slave revolt in the Danish West Indies. It is the only statue of its kind, commemorating a Black female slave who led a fight for freedom. I imagine the Rebel Queen’s words today: “The vote is a powerful weapon we never had. Use it well!”
This breathtaking monument was created by two Black female artists, LaVaughn Belle from the Virgin Islands and Jeannette Ehlers, a Dane with Caribbean roots. When I learned more about I Am Queen Mary, I shared her origin story with my 81-year-old mother. She and my father, who passed away in 2015, were born and raised in Haiti. Our ancestors may well have been shipped from Bordeaux. We will never know because before Haitian independence, only the French ancestry in our family tree was documented; it includes a leader in the American Revolution.
My mother made a vow that one day we would see Queen Mary together. So last December, she traveled from the US for 20 hours to meet me and my husband in Copenhagen. As a chilly winter rain lashed our faces, the three of us made our way gingerly across slippery cobblestones. We were making a pilgrimage to a monument against silence and erasure from history. We were honoring the power of art to shine a light on those hidden in the margins of history. We gazed up at the Rebel Queen as if she held the past, present, and future in her hands.
Nadine Pinede - Democrats Abroad Belgium
Juneteenth is celebrated in remembrance of June 19, 1865, the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas first learned from Union soldiers that they were free. This news came two years after President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It is no coincidence that President Trump chose Juneteenth to schedule his first political rally since March of this year. And it isn’t by chance that he chose Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of one of the most violent massacres of Blacks in American history. In 1921, from May 31 to June 1, incited by rumors of an encounter between a Black man and a white woman, white mobs looted, burned, and shot from private planes to destroy the prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, murdering and injuring more than 1,000 and leaving 10,000 homeless. No punishment or reparations were ever made, and this white violence was conveniently “forgotten” in the teaching of US history. Only this year, 99 years after the fact, did the massacre become part of the Oklahoma school curriculum. Amnesia is the enemy of social change.
On Juneteenth, Blacks in the US usually gather family and friends for bountiful picnics, with red-colored foods and kola nuts symbolizing Africa and the slave trade. We have always leaned into joy as a means of surviving the ceaseless trauma inflicted upon us. In this summer of resistance that we are currently living through, we’d like to invite all of you to take at least nine minutes to reflect on the individual lives lost to racial violence. Say their names aloud. George Floyd’s name has become known around the world, but take those minutes to think of the many others who are less well-known, including those killed by police in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. We cannot forget them, the way that countless Black victims of racial violence have been forgotten in the US.
President Trump may have caved in to pressure and changed the date of his Tulsa rally to June 20th. However, he also has said that he will accept his Republican Party's nomination to run again for President on another bleak day in Black American history, in yet another city that saw death and violence - Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27th, Ax Handle Saturday. Sixty years ago on that day, a group of over 200 white men violently attacked, with ax handles and baseball bats, a group of Black protesters who had gathered peacefully to stand against racial segregation. The attackers were never arrested. The protesters were.
This Juneteenth, we urge all US citizens living in Belgium, regardless of their political persuasion, to register to vote on www.VoteFromAbroad.org. The US has never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to face the reality of centuries mired in slavery and genocide. Is it any wonder that in 2020, lawmakers are actually “debating" anti-chokehold and anti-lynching laws? Let’s make this Juneteenth a day of remembrance, an act of resistance we can all participate in, wherever we are.
With this post, we begin a series that aspires to showcase the diverse voices of our Democratic community in Belgium. We understand that some might prefer to remain anonymous - that is fine. Our intent is not to shine a spotlight but rather to open our eyes to voices other than those we might usually be hearing. If you would like to share your voice, send a note to email@example.com.
On Atlanta & Fast Food
Rayshard Brooks is the most recent victim of the deadly use of force by police. He was shot in the back as he ran away from police, in the parking lot of a Wendy's fast food restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. Police had approached him because he was asleep in his car, and when he failed a sobriety test, he scuffled with them and took one of their tasers. A taser, however, is not a lethal weapon, and the police were not in any imminent danger. On the other hand, the young white man who in 2015 methodically shot and murdered 9 black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, was handled quite differently by police, who even bought him a Burger King hamburger when he was detained for questioning. Not all lives matter in the same way to those entrusted to protect us.
Brussels - June 14, 2020
Black History Month kicked off on February 8th at Toukoul Cafe in Brussels, with an inspiring program of readings, song, and a few rounds of Black History Bingo, complete with prizes. We met new friends, registered new voters, and learned more about a part of our history that most of us never really learned, whether here in Belgium or back in the States. But thanks to DAB volunteers, Robin Lofton & Sandra Keegan, we inaugurated what we hope will become an annual Lunch, and we prompted even more spontaneous get-togethers around the theme of Black History. The following week, members gathered to see the film "Just Mercy" at UGC DeBrouckère in Brussels; other are planning to attend the premieres of "Queen & Slim" and "Harriet", and many will hear DAB member, Dorrie Wilson, moderate a Writer's Panel ahead of the March 1st showing of the documentary on acclaimed writer, Toni Morrison, "The Pieces I Am" (tickets still available here - http://www.bozar.be/en/activities/163357-toni-morrison-the-pieces-i-am).
We’d really like our attention to Black History and the African-American experience to go beyond the month of February, so if you can help organize an event in the coming months, please get in touch!
DAB member, James Chizungu, reads from James Ellison's "Invisible Man"
A huge thanks to our volunteers, Joyce Kedzuf Mostinckx & Anne Clark, who registered US students at KU Leuven last month - as they can attest, it's easy and fun!! So consider helping us Get Out the Vote by joining Tuesday's GOTV Volunteer call - drop a note to Trip DuBard at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you the call-in details.
We also have a couple of debate watch events coming up, one in central Brussels on Friday and one out in the 'burbs on Saturday - look for details on our Events page.
Don't have time but still want to help? Consider making a small donation to DA Belgium through our DAB bank account (DAB-Bronzwaer - KBC BE74 7360 2169 3207) or to Democrats Abroad’s international efforts via this link (Donate).
Hope to meet you all soon,
Pauline Manos - DA Belgium Chair
This weekend, many of us are voting in European and local elections. We also commemorate Memorial Day in the US, honoring those who gave their lives to defend the democracy that we so often take for granted. Last weekend, that democracy was in action, as Democrats Abroad held three days of global meetings in Washington, DC. Thanks to the DA Travel Fund, one our members, Annie Tanampai, was able to attend, and DA funded many more of us participating from afar via WebEx.
But fewer than 1% of DA members donate to help us defend this democracy. Please help us change this. Donate Now to Democrats Abroad on a global level. DA provides the resources for us to do what we need to do - from paying for phone calls to our members to social media advertising that helps us get out the vote among the millions of overseas Americans in Belgium and around the world. Our donations really do make a difference, as you saw in our Treasurer's Report at our March Annual General Meeting. So please make a donation now.
I also encourage you to join our Global Caucuses. You can read more about them on DA’s website, as well as meeting the newly-elected International Executive Committee. The Caucuses are open to all allies of the various groups so consider signing up, following them on social media, and even volunteering.
Here in Belgium, our events continue into June, thanks to our many volunteers!
- June 6th 6:30pm - Schaerbeek Pub Social - RSVP here
- June 12th 6:30pm - Brussels Film Night - Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 - RSVP here
- June 27th - Extended ExCom Meeting & Debate Watch Party - pencil in the date and stay tuned for more details in our next email.
If any of you outside Brussels would like to organize a similar event and help us reach more Americans beyond the capital, please do get in touch with us! This is the time for us to raise awareness, ahead of our January 2020 voter registration drive.
A special shout out to the Leuven gang who helped register American exchange & graduate students at the university twice this year…they enjoyed a well-deserved drink on Election Night!
In Brussels, we watched Fox, CNN, and MSNBC until 5am in the same warm setting where we saw many a presidential debate in 2016.
DAB was proud to join the Lights 4 Rights group to mark the one year anniversary of our 2000-strong Brussels Women's March. The beautiful voices of Indigo Creative asbl led us in song (video on our Friends of Democrats Abroad Facebook page!) and we even able to give voting information to a few new Americans. If you haven't already requested your absentee ballots for 2018, be sure to go to www.VoteFromAbroad.org. See you at our next event, this coming Thursday!
We were very happy to welcome on November 6th Paula Jakub, the CEO of the AFSPA, which administers health insurance as part of the Federal Health Benefits program. Paula is also the Executive Director of the Senior Living Foundation and spoke to us of her learnings from running this non-profit organization that is devoted to helping elderly Foreign Service retirees and survivors. She also answered our questions on Medicare and Medicaid, Essential Health Benefits, long-term health insurance, pre-existing conditions, and the latest on the state of the Affordable Care Act. A special thanks to volunteer Sandra Keegan for having organized the comfortable venue, which helped soften the blow for some of us who realized we might never be able to move back to the US for a simple lack of affordable health care!
To all our members, please take part in the Tiny Action on Health Care - take a selfie in support of Universal Health Care - details on http://www.democratsabroad.org/healthcare_stories.
Thanks to the efforts of our determined GOTV Director, Tiffany Fliss, DAB was at KU Leuven's International Student Orientation Activity Fair on September 20th. Leuven DAB member Kevin Bardool and Chair Pauline Manos helped sign-up a dozen or so American citizens and encouraged all the other curious students (especially attracted by DA Germany's "Make America Gay Again" postcard!) to help us spread the word.