Introducing the Liberation Lens Series

This is the start of a series that seeks to offer an honest and authentic framework for understanding the roots of the current crises that we are facing as a society. This series attempts to not only check the weather conditions of our movement at this time, but also proposes questions creating some scenarios forward. These scenarios seek to clarify as well as dispel any confusion about what we are encountering in the next two months as we approach national elections. As a community of organizers, activists, resource mobilizers, culture makers, political strategists, and resource mobilizers it’s time to ask ourselves “What We Finna Do?”

Our writing, videos and podcast in this series will revolve around cultivating strategies for survival beyond voting, because we are clear that the United States cannot exist authentically as anything approaching democracy until we address how our economy is fundamentally parasitic. It is based on the few extracting resources of time, energy, labor and even culture from the many.  It is as true during the colonial era’s enslavement of African people and land theft of Indigenous people as it is in our modern economy of stagnant wages and rising rent, unpaid forced prison labor (legalized slavery),  racial wealth gaps and gendered pay gaps. 

We do not seek a form of governance in which “the people” (the state) control society because we seek societies that exist without institutions of control. Instead we seek a democracy so participatory and relational–with power so localized, spread out and readily available to every person–that politicking and close door deals simply aren’t an effective way of making change for anyone.  This requires a transition of how we participate at a local or municipal level and an opportunity to practice governance that is open and accessible. 

Such a project on a society wide scale will not happen spontaneously or quickly. The uprisings that we are seeing to racist policing, government callousness and rising  authoritarianism are beautiful expressions of saying no to this on-going exploitation and extraction. As much as the destruction of check cashing places and police stations might cause pearl clucking from liberals and gun hoarding from militia-adjacent conservatives we believe these uprisings are necessary (and basically unavoidable after years of Neo-liberal Democratic party urban rule), but they are not sufficient for building the society we want. The power to stop with a collective no is a different kind of power than the power to start with a collective yes. 

To say yes–collectively– to real community, to belonging, to feeding every hungry mouth, to actual safety, takes organization. It takes intentionally cultivating empathy to be able  to sense what is happening in the lives of our neighbors as well as building the community structures that can collect what is collectively happening. It takes building the capacity for collective sense making and investigation of truth. It takes a particular kind of leadership, where individuals and groups respond to meet collective needs in ways that inspire others to complementary actions. Such community organization must inspire right action or the self-organization of other members of a community to mobilize to support or similarly meet needs. This leadership is neither the charisma of hierarchy in which the community is told what to do nor is it the propaganda deed where they are inspired to commit heroic singular acts against the state.

Rather, this kind of leadership is about being our siblings keepers, providing refuge and care in ways that communicate that they are inherently worthy of having their needs meet with dignity. It needs to communicate this not only intellectually but through actions that make it understood deeply in their bodies.  It can mean defending them from eviction or arrest. It can mean leaving food outside their apartment when they are quarantining. It can mean learning how to use an IPAD to help your grandchild with their distance learning homework. It means doing all the small acts of fellowship that invite people into a new lived experience in which they are never left to face the brutality, alienation or exhaustion of modern life alone. 

It is a fundamentally feminist mode of leadership. It understands that social reproduction–the work of keeping ourselves alive and bringing new life into the community–is the heart of what a society is. The work of reproducing society in ways that align with our highest visions of ourselves and our potential is the work of all members of a society, not just women, children or femmes. It is not the role of the state or its agents. Social reproduction is, in this sense, the essential human vocation. Feminist leadership of this kind recognizes that communal self defense is crucial to survival of a society. Yet feminist leadership recognizes that self-defense is first and foremost a collective endeavor about preserving life. It does not seek confrontation for the sake of confrontation. It does not seek to beat people into compliance and call it “order.” It does not seek to “win” by any means necessary but to survive and thrive by the most joyous and pleasurable ways possible. 

Still, this collective leadership must recognize that we exist in a time in which mass incarceration, mass detention and an increasingly fascist government are key facets in a deepening crisis of social reproduction. This is even more clear as immigrant detention facilities are engaging in the genocidal practices of forced sterilization. Pared with the alarming rise of covid in state institutions of incarceration and detention these systems become literally death camps. Defense of life in this moment must include the dismantling of the physical infrastructure that enables this systemic death. 

But as social theorists time and time again point out, you cannot blow up a social relationship. The dismantling of the infrastructure of death is necessary but insufficient to defend the lives of communities who are targeted by the way our system has been arranged. We must also uproot the strategies for meeting our needs (emotional, social and spiritual as well as physical) that rely on extracting or exploiting ourselves, each other and the earth. 

We must replace the logic of Domination with the logic of Liberation. 

Domination tells us the only way to meet our needs is to take them from others. Domination tells us to work single handedly to narrow the options of others so that the outcomes favor our narrow interests. Like the Democratic party suing to keep third parties off the ballot, forcing them to be the only possible electoral alternative to Trump’s emerging fascism. Domination tells us to ignore the negative consequences of our systems of control, first by denying them in ourselves and later against others. Like Trump denying the impacts of the Covid outbreak even as his own supporters got sick or killed themselves drinking bleach.  Domination tells us to turn any one who dissents, who makes their wounds visible, into a villain who is not only wrong but fundamentally bad. Like all the bystanders blaming Black Lives Matter for being divisive when we were merely asking this system to stop killing us. When we were merely asking why all these bystanders were so comfortable with our deaths. Now we are called terrorists.

Even when used for good ends (like fighting fascism), Domination Logic limits our options and weakens our ability to sense what is actually happening. In order to expand our possibilities–to create pathways forward that lead to the kinds of worlds we actually want–you have to use a different logic. We need the logic of Liberation. 

Instead of unilateral action based in fear and scarcity we need collaboration based in love and abundance. Scarcity is based on the belief that there is only one way, on type of resource, to meet our needs. Abundance recognizes that together there are many ways to meet our needs with dignity. 

Instead of denying reality or ignoring the impacts of our actions we have to realize how we are fundamentally connected. As individuals we are the results of things that have changed us, each interaction molding our potential. There is no individual without society and no society without individuals. 

Instead of vilifying others or denying their complexity as human beings we need to practice radical empathy and understand people’s actions (including our own) as strategies for meeting specific needs in a specific context as they see them. Rather simplifying people into heroes and monsters or flattening them to one sided identities that supposedly explains their behavior we have to learn to faithfully witness each other. To see our actions as attempts of meeting our needs in either skillful or unskillful ways.

Instead of attempting to control others, ourselves or the world we need to begin trying to nurture the conditions that would offer more desired options. We need to embrace new strategies for engaging with the world that accept what we cannot change while having the courage to change, even destroy, that which no longer serves us. 

Liberation Logic offers fundamentally different ways of understanding and responding to our present moment. It allows us to see systems of death as ways that meet the material needs of those that profit off them but it also seeks to justify the self worth of people who have used Domination Logic to explain their inherent goodness. We call it “respectability” when marginalized people buy into it or “bigotry” when dominant groups do but it is essentially the same strategy. If we divide the world into good people and bad people then I will do whatever I can to be on the good side. 

Disrupting the economic or political interests that fuel these systems is necessary to dismantle them but we must realize they will be vehemently defended by those who benefit from them psychologically. If we use Domination Logic against them–try to control or police their thoughts or speech–then we are only reifying their deep seated belief in Domination Logic as the only viable logic to get needs met. This is even more true if we try to pacify them with comfort to side step their use of domination logic. Biden’s “American Made” campaign seeks to bring material benefits to the white working class but refuses to challenge the fact that the material comfort they are accustomed to has only been possible because of the wealth the U.S extracts from so called “third-world” or “underdeveloped economies.” 

The debt that allows the white working class to consume like the middle class is only possible because of the U.S position in the financial institutions it created after WW2. The cheap products that we all buy and many of us feel entitled to are only possible because people in poor countries, often women, work long hours for little pay in order to make them. The U.S has a history of supporting dictators and turning a blind eye to their atrocities so long as they fight off the socialist and communist who would push for a higher wage or better working conditions. 

In this way, even Bernie Sanders’ economic platform fails. When we use Liberation Logic–and our understanding of interdependence–we cannot pretend our domestic policy is separate from our foreign policy. We cannot turn to “the Nordic model” as Liberatory because countries like Sweden are some of the largest weapons sellers in the world, the profits of which are a large part of what fuels their domestic social programs. 

Instead we need a way of navigating this current moment in ways that replace strategies of extraction with strategies of collaboration. This does not mean having a purity politics where we do nothing unless it is without any possible negatives. It means that when we move we hold ourselves responsible for working with people impacted by our solutions to improve them rather than saying they must bear those impacts for the “greater good.” We do not ignore those who say, for instance, that Biden-Harris policies do not serve them. We do not shame people for refusing to accept strategies that leave them without their needs people met.

Instead we work with those who are negatively affected to create the conditions in which we could all get our needs met with dignity. Liberation Logic asks us “what steps can we take now to make multiple, better worlds possible?” 

It is this question, and questions like it, that this series will explore. 

2 thoughts on “Introducing the Liberation Lens Series

  1. Pingback: Anarchism as a Praxis for Collective Belonging (Liberation Lens Series) | The Well Examined Life

  2. Pingback: Practical Anarchism for Collective Belonging (Liberation Lens Series) – The Free

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