Paper Bullets: A story of resistance through empathy

Good morning, fam!

I finally finished Paper Bullets this morning, a book about two gender-bending lesbians who used art and proto-memes to resist the German occupation of the channel islands in World War II. It’s an absolutely fascinating book and does a very good job of showing how small and repeated acts of resistance that center around empathy can lead to immense social change. It’s also a deeply sad and realistic book that shows how unappreciated that work goes and how dangerous it can be.

It’s a very fitting book for my own existence as a queer writer who has always been interested in the use of memes to spread empathy for minorities, people with disabilities, and marginalized populations of many forms. It would be absurd to try and compare myself to Lucy and Suzanne, however; they lived in completely different times with a completely different form of occupation, showing incredible bravery in the face of danger. I still value the lessons that their story has to teach though as I feel like it is just as applicable today as it was during World War II. I’m very appreciative to the Community Support team at GitHub who got it for me as a going-away present when I left that job.

I started reading that book during the last year of the horrid Trump administration and the message of the book consistently seemed poignant. It was an instruction manual of how to resist in the face of overwhelming odds, using memes as effective ways to make people aware of what is going on and sharing perspectives of others so that people understood that they were not alone and also the complexity of what we were fighting for. It allowed me to see that this was already something that was happening around the world, sometimes intuitively and sometimes intentionally, and gave me ideas for how to actively participate. It was a way that I was able to find hope and power in a time of utter hopelessness and powerlessness.

Unfortunately, the book’s ending also mirrors my experience with Trump’s transition of power to the Biden administration. In the book, many of the people involved in resistance activities saw the end of the war as a sign that they could and should stop resisting in this way, desperate to forget the awful experience that they just endured and get back to normal life which paved the way for further post-war imperialism. After Biden won the election, the feeling in the air was much the same. People desperately wanted to forget the last regime and in doing so convinced themselves that it was time to get back to normal instead of questioning how the status quo led to this sort of situation in the first place and recognizing that there’s more work to be done.

It’s a deeply isolating feeling to see this happening around me and I’m honestly afraid that the same thing will happen when the pandemic ends. People are desperate to get back to their old lives and ignore the lessons given to us by this pandemic. I understand this – I am also desperate to return to a life that I once lived – but we can’t forget the lessons of this pandemic. We need to fight for Universal Healthcare. We need to care about the climate catastrophe and push for changes in all industries. We need to set up resilient communities of caring and we need to fight for the rights of workers on the front lines of everything. If we don’t, we’re just going to experience further pandemics, each one worse until we learn our lessons.

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