I was in a meeting recently and someone asked us all, as part of our check in, “What plant best represents you?” (I guess it was a theater thing, like “If you could be a tree what tree would you be.”) It was a better way for letting people know how we felt in that moment than just asking “How do you feel?”, I guess.
Anyway—people were naming these amazing, soaring or delicately beautiful things: sequoia, or hibiscus, iris or oak—all of them beautiful.
I said grass.
I think of grass as the most working class, the most proletariat of plants. Grass is just there, doing it’s thing. Grass is strong, and its roots are much deeper than people realize. And when you walk in the park looking at the seasonal flowers you may not even think about how old the grass under your feet is. The grass lives for decades. Decades.
This just came up for me because, as a Black person, periodically of the statement will come up that all of us oppressed folks—all of us—are descended from kings and queens. That obviously has to be true for some, but what’s wrong with being descended from working folks? I mean if I could trace my ancestry back to the beginnings of humans and couldn’t find anyone but farmers, merchants, soldiers, slaves, teachers, scribes and stone masons I would be just as proud as if I found some royalty. Heck, I’d be prouder! See, I’m not big on royalty anyway. As a student of history I have found that royalty… they’re mainly assholes.
We enslaved, betrayed and decimated people built mighty civilizations, had rich histories. We had art and libraries and science and magnificent cultures with soaring philosophies not because of those at the top, but because of those working people who are the real architects of any civilization. And the reason we don’t know about them today isn’t because we lack kings and queens—it’s because our histories were burned and our civilizations crushed by those who need to present us—to themselves and us—as having never been anything but the stool the conqueror rests his boot on. But that brutal erasure of history does not mean that I, personally, have to be the descendant of kings and queens to be worthy of respect, dignity or human rights.
I don’t know my ancestors because my people were kidnapped—some enslaved some indentured—were raped, were dispersed. So I cannot claim direct lineage from any throne, but nor do I want to.
What I do claim is spiritual ancestry from everyone that fought against their oppression.
So I don’t claim the royalty.
I claim the revolutionaries.
Michael Gene Sullivan
Michael Gene Sullivan is an actor, director, playwright, Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of the never silent, always revolutionary San Francisco Mime Troupe. He describes himself as "Just a guy with a dream ... a dream that involves a whole lotta Capitalists being put in prison."