Where Do We Go From Here?

 “I think that’s another lie that we’re told growing up is, that we have to wait for some Gandhi or some MLK to come and be the one to do the thing. When it’s, like, all of us have the power to do the thing.”

Lou Blumberg

Educational Sukkot event- photo by Chana Rose, 2019

With the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people, we have all been grieveing. With protest encampments popping up across different universities in the United States and other countries, we see the biggest student movement emerging after the Vietnam Anti-War Movement of the 1970s. One such protest encampment started at our school, Portland State University, and it was met with violent police action resulting in injuries and arrests of students and community members. As the PSU community continues to protest against this blatant infringement on our right to free speech, we aim to discover and develop new methods to make our struggle more sustainable and effective.

Lou, my very beloved classmate, has been an active member of the Jewish Voice for Peace in New Orleans and has worked intensively to raise a voice against Israeli apartheid in Palestine. They have just moved to Portland. I spoke to Lou regarding the ongoing situation of the world; the protest encampment in our university, cops, suffering and possible ways of healing, the bliss of ignorance vs the fulfillment found in solidarity with the community. We also derive some comfort discussing my project ‘Songs For Dark Times Like These’ and Lou ends up singing a song for me that they wrote for our shared struggle for justice.

Simeen Anjum: Good morning Lou, how does it feel to be here today? (On a Friday morning in May we sat down for breakfast together on my terrace and began talking about Lou’s move to Portland and the ongoing student protest)

Lou: Well, I was shy when you first asked me if I wanted to be interviewed, but now that I’m here, it feels like we can just chat as friends. 

Simeen: Totally. So, I wanted to chat about your transition to Portland from New Orleans. and the changes you feel and what changes you see coming up in the future, especially given the social unrest in our world right now and the ongoing student movements in both New Orleans and here at Portland State University (PSU).

Lou:  It’s definitely been quite a change. I mean, the temperaments of both the places are really different, although I think there are some similarities. There’s definitely a DIY kind of ethos in both places.

The week I left New Orleans was the week that the local encampment on Tulane’s campus was raided, and it was such a moment of intense grief for so many of us who had been there. So it was really hard for me to leave. I cried when I went to the airport because I felt very sad to leave my community as they were grieving and trying to come back from that. 

Once I got here in Portland, the library encampment in our university had already been dismantled, with a noticeable change in the atmosphere, marked by the installation of a fence and the removal of graffiti.

Protest encampment at PSU Library, dismantled by Portland Police Bureau after multiple student and community member arrests. (May 2024)

Protest encampment at PSU Library, displaying graffiti done from inside the library’s glass windows. (May 2024)

Simeen: Yeah, it was also the week that the encampment here got dismantled and there were a lot of arrests and police brutality.  We were also grieving and trying to come to terms with it. Even though you weren’t physically present here, you must have received all the emails and alerts from the school administration, right? How did it feel for you? It seems like you were witnessing a similar situation in a different city, receiving these emails in real-time from the administration, knowing this is the place you were moving to. 

Lou: Absolutely. It was incredibly strange and confusing to receive those emails. I didn’t know where to get accurate information from within the encampment because I’m not on Instagram much. The only information I was getting was the university’s narrative, which painted the protestors as unlawful and dangerous. However, I saw stories from you and Luz showing it was a peaceful protest, similar to the one I experienced in New Orleans. Despite this, I found myself almost believing the university’s messaging, imagining the library was totally destroyed when, in reality, people were simply writing “Free Gaza” on the spines of old encyclopedias that no one reads anymore. It was really strange, and I didn’t know where to get my information, but I knew not to trust the authority and the narrative they were sending.

Simeen: Definitely, the messaging that we were receiving was very misleading. As someone who was there and was trying to follow up on everything that was going on, I also felt that the tone of the emails we were receiving was very intimidating. They repeatedly used words like, ‘if you go around the library, that is criminal trespassing.’ And I feel like, in that same email, they were mentioning that it’s your First Amendment right, that no matter who you are, you have the right to free speech. And at the same time, they’re telling me that if I go to that place, I will get arrested? That’s hypocrisy.

Lou: And I remember you saying that, in India, when the protests were happening at your university, at least the administration didn’t pretend to be supportive. But here in the States, they’re pretending to be supportive of free speech, yet they’re calling militarized police onto campus. There is so much hypocrisy. It’s so dissonant to see that. And I think in New Orleans, the administration there didn’t even pretend. They were completely like, ‘this is dangerous and terrible and unlawful.’ Even though I was at the encampment and there was music, there was so much free food, I got a massage. There was just so much community care happening and it was like a really beautiful space that people created.

Simeen: That’s true. That’s absolutely true. And, on a different note, as someone who has only been here in Portland for a few months, that whole week of being in solidarity with the people made me feel like I belonged here because there was just so much community care. People taking care of each other. I recently read about how “Healing happens in the community.”  Activism creates this sense of community that we need at this point in time.

A woman at the PSU protest encampment writing a placard with a piece of coal. The placard says “Inquilab Zindabad” in Hindi (Simeen’s first language), a popular protest slogan that translates to “Long Live the Revolution.” (May 2024)

Simeen holding her protest placard at her first U.S. protest, with the message ‘Free Palestine from the River to the Sea.’ (October 2023)

Lou speaking at an event called “Sazeracs against Surveillance” about the surveillance connections between New Orleans and Palestine (in 2019)

Seder in the streets with jvp nola. photo by Temple Blacksnake (April 2024)

Lou: Absolutely. That’s why I’m so interested in the dynamics of conflict. When conflict arises within the beautiful communities we create, it can feel really bad and demoralizing.  At least I had this sense over the last few months when conflict would come up in my community. I’d feel like, wow, we can’t even handle our own shit and we’re fighting these enormous systems that are propped up by so much money and power. It feels so important to create that community amongst each other, that healing community that actually feels good to be a part of, that can heal from and move through conflict together.

Simeen: It’s empowering. I find it incredibly empowering because at the protest, when we were standing in front of the cops, I realized that we’re all kids that I see every day at school, but I would normally not talk to them. We would just walk past each other. But there we were, standing together, so full of energy, so full of passion for something that we believe in. It creates a community, a solidarity and that’s just so powerful.

Protesters holding a sign that says ‘PSU Faculty Stands with Students and Palestine’ at a protest in PSU Park Blocks following violent police action and the arrest of protesting students and community members. (May 2024)

Lou: That’s really powerful.

Simeen: Does the administration really expect us to believe that the violence that was used on our students, people that we go to school with, was justified because they were unlawful? 

Lou: Yeah, I don’t buy it. Nobody’s buying it. Especially not the people who were there and saw the beautiful community that was created. 

Simeen: I also wanted to talk to you about how we keep going? With everything that’s going on, we do have to go on, so what strategies are you trying to adopt that I can also seek from you? What do we do now? 

Lou: That’s such a good question. So many people think really differently about it. I feel like I keep reminding myself that there’s no one right way. Like, there’s no one thing that everyone needs to do. There are so many different ways that we can work towards liberation and I really don’t want to hate anyone who chooses a way that I might not choose. 

I’m in a moment of really asking myself that question on a really personal level of where do I feel most energized? What do I do now? Where do I feel like I can sustainably and meaningfully put my energy in liberation work? Because I think for a long time, I got really burned out and that’s not sustainable.

Simeen: We should invent a liberation struggle that doesn’t burn us out.

Lou: Yes and I do think that’s possible. And I think part of it is loving community, not working alone and working in a group of people that is diffuse and has many, many leaders, so people can take a step back when they need to and it doesn’t mean the end.

Simeen: And there’s no shame in being scared.

Lou: Yes, definitely. I’ve been really liking this definition of a leader as someone who encourages others to take risks. And it’s not about being the loudest voice or the figurehead of a movement. I think that’s another lie that we’re told growing up is, that we have to wait for some Gandhi or some MLK to come and be the one to do the thing. When it’s, like, all of us have the power to do the right thing. 

Simeen: Yeah and also we don’t have to be perfect. I think for the longest time I thought that, you know, you have to be perfect, you have to be on top of everything. You have to know the history of the entire world to be able to speak up. 

Lou: That’s so true. I think we naturally just know when something is wrong and we should just say it. It’s really frustrating and saddening that a debate about killing children and destroying every single cultural institution in a region is a debate. Like, that is just wrong and that is not a war. And to keep calling it a war or a conflict is obscuring the very real wrongness that anyone can see if you really just sit with it for a second.

Simeen: People like to say it’s a complex issue.

Lou: Yeah. I don’t think it is so complex.

Simeen: Okay, so what’s the plan of action going forward?

Lou: Well, I saw on your Instagram that there’s something happening today at 7 pm. Are you gonna go?

Simeen: I’ll go. Yeah, we can go together. 

Lou: Okay. Other than that, take care of ourselves. I’m gonna spend a lot of time outside. I’m gonna go to the river. Practice being hopeful. Crying. Sing a song.

Can I sing you a song that I wrote?

Simeen: Yes, OMG!

Lou continues to sing a beautiful song as the both us sit together on my terrace basking in the warm sun that the city of Portland is seeing after many months of gray skies

So much heartbreak,

Break it open…

Let your love pour out of you…

We will build this world together,

We will build this world anew…

Lou singing at a rally. Photo by Abdul Aziz (October 2023)

Lou is an artist, educator, and facilitator with ties to Portland, New Orleans, and San Francisco. They think a lot about what it means to feel safe vs. what it means to be safe, what you can gain by being vulnerable, and how to live a good life. Hire them to mediate your next conflict.

Simeen Anjum (she/her) is a social practice artist and cultural activist from New Delhi, India. Locating herself in the disquiet of state suppression, surveillance, personal and collective trauma, she attempts to document,cherish and archive the smallest fragments of ordinary life. Through her work, she hopes to provide alternatives to established socio-political narratives. She works in direct interaction with her community and surroundings.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.

Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.

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c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207