Celina De Leon
Marissa Handler, 30, knows firsthand that the life of an activist is not for the meek. Handler has worked with organizations such as Direct Action to Stop the War and United for Peace and Justice. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Bitch and Tikkun (where she also did organizing), as well as on Alternet and Salon.
Handler recently published her first book, Loyal to the Sky: Notes From an Activist. The book chronicles Handler’s journey to and through activism and what she knows to be true as a result. From her childhood in South Africa during apartheid, to her teen years as an outsider in Los Angeles, to her treks around the world in the name of social and economic justice, Handler takes her audience on a journey that weaves the personal with the political. She is currently on tour with “Loyal to the Sky,” as well as her first full-length album, Dark Spoke. WireTap caught up with Handler recently while she was on the road.
WT: The title of the book comes from a song you wrote. Can you talk about what you mean by being “loyal to the sky,” and why chose that as a title?
Marisa Handler: Sure. The lyric comes from a song that I sang during the anti-war protests of March 20, 2003, when 20,000 people set off for the streets of San Francisco and shut the city down in protest of Bush’s declaration of war [in Iraq]. I wrote the song during the build-up to the war because Bush Inc. was going on about patriotism in pretty vast nebulous terms.
“Loyal to the sky” is really a [way to say] loyalty to something far greater than this country. I think patriotism is good. And I think people who are questioning the war are really strong patriots. But I think, in a globalized world, what is required of us is more than just patriotism. To me, it’s about being loyal to all human beings, to all countries, and to the planet. “Loyal to the sky” is one of the lyrics to express that. “Loyal to all we share; to the love that brings us here today.” Being loyal is what brings us [to the protests] in the first place; what brings us to fight for life and against war.
WT: Your parents moved your family to Los Angeles from South Africa because they did not want to live under the rule of apartheid. Through the eyes of an activist, how do you view that decision today?
MH: I have a lot of admiration for them. It’s ironic because they actually moved back four or five years ago, and now they’re living in Capetown again. In fact, I was just there visiting them. You know, at the time that we left, it looked like South Africa was going to devolve into a very bloody civil war. There wasn’t much hope. My mother, in particular, had a very strong conscience and protested apartheid in college and had been beaten and thrown into jail. It was very hard living in South Africa–living in a segregated country with the recognition that it was completely wrong, something many whites did not have. It’s amazing growing up in a completely segregated society, how it gets normalized. So I think [leaving] was a very courageous thing to do.