“Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta.
“But you’re not,” I say. “None of us are. That’s how the Games work.”
“Okay, but within that framework there’s still you, there’s still me,” he insists. “Don’t you see?”
-The Hunger Games, chapter 10, pg. 142 (Kindle e-book version)
Every time I reread The Hunger Games (which is often), I look forward to this exchange between Katniss, the protagonist, and Peeta, her fellow District tribute in the Games. I love this part of their conversation because of what it reveals about who these two teenagers are before their lives get extremely complicated, because it spirals into an even more revealing argument, because of how it affects the course of the rest of the story, and, especially this year, because of how I can connect this conversation to my own reality.
I have always understood on a deeply personal level what Peeta is getting at here because I too have spent a lot of time thinking about how to prove that someone or something doesn’t own me. Growing up as a child in a military family and coming into adulthood as a Black bisexual woman have created a strong desire to fight against the notion that I am nothing more than an insignificant pawn in the systems that control and entrap me. That being said, I’ve found that as I’ve become more aware of how sturdy, how all-encompassing, how destructive systemic injustice is, it is so much easier for me to cling to Katniss’s pessimistic viewpoint. So much easier to believe that no matter what I actually want I am doomed to play the role those in power, those who most benefit from the systems of oppression that keep this country going, want me to play if I want to survive.
This place of pessimism is where I have been for much of the time since my last blog post, feeling lost as to how to pull myself out of it. How do I feel like I can do anything worthwhile when I see day-after-day in the news just how easy it is for governments locally, federally, and internationally to inflict suffering on large swaths of people and to condemn people to certain death? How can I really be more than just a piece in anyone’s game when I can feel the weight of systems of oppression all around me and they absolutely have more power, more control, and more force than I or anyone with similar ideals have?
As I’ve sat pondering this in my depressed and defeated state, I have realized that Peeta’s response at the end of this section offers a little practical hope I’d never given much thought to before: “…within that framework, there’s still you, there’s still me.”
Within the unjust, abusive, silencing system(s) that limit and control our lives, there’s still us. There are still the ways we choose to think about the world. There are still the ways we choose to exist in the world. There is still space, even if it’s severely limited by the oppression around us, for us to be the final say on who we are in the oppressive realities we live in.
Just because we’re not capable systemically, practically, or emotionally of taking down an entire system doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to affirm that we are more than those in power want us to be. There are always little ways to challenge the narratives of the system. Respecting and supporting someone the system routinely denigrates and abuses, sharing our stories as marginalized people, creating art that calls the system into question, refusing to accept the negative narratives about ourselves and others – whatever we can manage to do, no matter how small, we should seek to do. Because even seemingly small acts of rebellion can weaken the system both directly and indirectly. And every small act of rebellion – every small moment of saying, “I am not a piece in your games” – could inspire someone else’s act of rebellion which could inspire someone else’s and on and on until eventually there is an entire movement of rebellion strong enough to destroy the system completely.
In many ways that is the story of The Hunger Games–a series of small moments of rebellion snowballing into an organizable movement which could take down the Capitol. A series of people making the choice to challenge their oppressors and the narratives of their oppressors in whatever small ways they could manage until their options were no longer so small.
With that in mind, as I look towards 2017, instead of staying weighed down by the heaviness of what has passed and the fear of what is to come, I’m trying to hold onto the belief that there will always be ways, even if they’re small, to show the powers that be that they are not the final say over my life or over my reality. No matter how hopeless it looks and no matter how limited and useless I feel, even the small acts of rebellion I can manage are worth something in the long run.