Wu Wei or What If Our Movements Were Like Water

It has been so long since I sat down and wrote something for this website. My world has been so consumed with work, with relationships and self-examination that I lost the habit of writing here. In some ways, not needing to have my thoughts be profound enough to be shared with the world was a practice of releasing ego’s hold on me. In other ways, it allowed that egoic grasping to take me into the realm of action. I was focused on doing things to change the world.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Just like I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with ego. It is a tool. It can protect us from a world that says we are nothing. If we listen to it, it can reveal what unmet needs are arising and what hurts need tending. Yet when we forget it is something outside of us to listen to, when we think it is us, we get in trouble.

Speaking your truth into the void and delving your hands into the earth to plant and water seeds are both worthwhile tasks. Yet they both have the capacity for overindulgence and ego. Thinking that my brilliant writing would change the world had a very similar energy to planting seeds frantically hoping to grow a forest that topples empire. I have come to believe that both fundamentally misunderstand how change happens.

Both see human agency as something that can transcend nature. Human agency is the conscious thing. We can figure out how to counter the waves of history and the natural world and direct them as we will it. All that is needed is an understanding or decisive collective action. They both see change making as a struggle. An active fight over power against the forces that oppose us.

Yet what if that view, of the necessity and centrality of struggle to change, is wrong? What if we don’t need to always be struggling to be free? What if struggle is secondary to movement rather than its impetus? What if we moved with the current instead of struggling to swim upstream?

I have a sense now, not an analytical knowing but a sense. I can sense now that change is not a linear process. It cannot be directed to a specific, pre-determined end. Change is a constant force to dance with, lean into, co-shape, to nudge, to nurture.

In Taoism, there is a similar belief in the idea of Wu Wei or non-action. It’s a concept I am leaning into. It is, in many ways, antithetical to how I am used moving in the world. Honestly, it causes me a lot of anxiety because it requires giving up my sense of control that is so baked into my sense of security. Because of this, I can’t say that I fully understand it. Yet I feel invited in this moment to practice it. To try it. To see what it can teach me.

From my very limited understanding, Wu Wei does not have one meaning in all Taoist texts. The aspect of Wu Wei I am talking about here can be summed up by this description of Bruce Lee’s Wu Wei Gung Fu, a fighting art that expressed his ultimate philosophy:

“Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget technique.” At the highest level of this discipline (as well as other martial arts), the warrior becomes one with the flow of reality around him. In that state of oneness, he is able to act without the necessity of volition. To the bystanders, he doesn’t seem to do much, and yet he delivers the exact minimum of impact at the exact right time to accomplish what needs to be done and not one iota more.Derek Lin

 

Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget Technique.

 

It is about allowing what we learn to be so incorporated into our being that we do it naturally as the need arises. We do not need to seek out opportunities to prove it. We merely view opportunities were the technique might be useful as an invitation to practice. We practice until it is how we move through the world. The goal is to move the through the world skillfully rather than to transform it actively with a predetermined plan.

What if this is how we thought about liberation. What if we actively tried to learn it. Practice it with each other and then embodied it so thoroughly that it becomes as natural as breathing?

We are practiced at struggle. We know how to do that. You cannot survive within capitalism without learning struggle. Wage labor is struggle. Even capitalist learn to struggle against their own empathetic humanity. But what if started practicing what we actually want?

In a recent romantic break-up, my ex and I were discussing our relationship. She was explaining the pain that arose from some of the dynamics in our relationship. I wanted her to see how much I loved her in that moment. I felt a strong desire to interrupt her and correct her perception. To struggle with her, the very thing she was naming as hurtful. “You don’t understand what I was trying to do in that moment!” I wanted to scream. “You have to understand I was just afraid. I just wanted you to really see me!”

Instead of battling it our with her, I cried, I reflected back what I saw as her perspective though it was not my own. I acknowledged the harm she felt and explained how, in my perspective, I was reacting to her pulling away from me. I acknowledged how much I loved her, wanted to be with her, and just need her to know that. Rather than refute a perception of me that I thought wrong, I affirmed what I thought was good and right and spoke my truth. By being loving and gentle towards her, I changed her perception of me in that moment and got the human connection I wanted.

Within the practice of loving each other and connecting we could have the space to see all the truths and perspectives of our past disagreements. We didn’t have to struggle or contend with our different truths. I also didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t hurt by her perception or that I viewed it the same way she did. Because winning the struggle wasn’t the goal, proving that I was good guy and she was mistaken wasn’t the goal, being seen and connecting was.

It still saddens me that it took being broken up for me to realize that. That you can just love. You don’t have to scheme or try to argue with people to love you. If we practice loving we can embody Love.

 

Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “Be like water, nothing is weaker, yet nothing is better at overcoming the strong.”

 

 

I know many of you think, okay, you can do that in a loving relationship, but politics is different. Yes, politics is different, which is why I’m starting to think it might be more effective there. In politics, the oppressed have nothing to lose from speaking their truth to power. The state is going to kill them anyway. In intimate relationships we have whole worlds to lose. I care more about what my ex thought of me than I care what the police think.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we go bear our soul to the cops or hug Nazi’s. Rather, I’m suggesting we think about what we actually want and try to learn how to get it, and practice it until we embody it. Is what we want to shut down a highway? Is that our true goal? Or is the goal to make the wound visible? To have our society grieve for the loss of life? To be seen by the powers that be as a force to reckoned with?

If our goal is for society to grieve the loss of life, are we actually, consciously allowing ourselves to grieve? Are we re-learning how to grieve? Are we practicing it, gently holding our selves through anger, bargaining, denial, depression and acceptance? If not, how are going to expect society to do it? Why are struggling to get people to do something we ourselves won’t do?

If we practiced grieving in our lives and communities we might learn some more effective techniques to do it at scale. We can master inviting society into our grieving process. What if America actually grieved the killing of Black people? How would empire change if it had to come to acceptance of what it has done?

Is our goal to be a power to be reckoned with? If so, are we actually  building power? Are we practicing the wielding of power or we just critiquing it? If we have power, do we need to argue with the state or can we just wield it to get what we want? Why do we feel we need power that the state can understand?

Wielding power on the small, organizational scale was an eye-opening experience for me. As local community leader, I realized how difficult wielding the small amount of power I had according to my principles was. It allowed me to see how much material, spiritual and emotional infrastructure needed to be in place to wield power well. That understanding sharpened my critique of the state. It is simply not set up to wield power in the ways we want. By actually practicing wielding power, I realized my fundamental assumptions about power had to change. Now I focus on embodying my true power, which for me, is based in love and compassionate understanding.

 

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Do We Have An Alternative?

Why not get real about what we want? If we really want liberation then let’s practice it first. Let’s love each other without grasping or policing how that love needs to be received or repriprocated. There is struggle in that believe me. Its taking me years to understand that, to heal enough to even attempt that.

If we want joy then let’s practice it! Struggle should not be the impetus for movement. Liberation is a much better one. If struggle is necessary for Liberation then let’s struggle, but how can we know that without practicing it?

Have we asked ourselves…what if we win? What if we overthrow the Trump administration? What if we overthrow capitalism? Have we practiced an alternative enough to embody it when things get rough? Will love, self-determination and abundance be as natural as breathing when the collapse comes? If we freed all the children in the detention centers tomorrow, do our communities have to process to heal children on that scale? Do we have an alternative to policing and drug wars that are fueling this crisis?

We live in a world that is dying, a tower that is crumbling from neglect, an empire that refuses to look in the mirror. We can struggle with it, to try and overcome the reigns before it falls over the cliff or we can remember that Empire isn’t what we wanted anyway.

What if our movements were like water? What if we went with our own flow? What if we practiced loving each other and finding belonging as the world ends? What if we practiced a form of humanity in which we saw each other as an invitation to remember that we are Love? What if we practiced finding refuge by offering to others?

 

Honestly, all I want to say is this:

What if we tried being Liberated first and saw the opposition to our freedom as an invitation to heal each other? What if Liberation didn’t have to be so hard? What if we looked at our family who disagreed with us, who asked us to go slow, to not cause waves and asked them, what hurt stops you from wanting to be free? How can we care for each other in this moment? Maybe we would be surprised by the result.

I’m not suggesting that shut down’s are not necessary. I’m merely inviting us to think about what would be different if we only did BLOCKing actions to create space for BUILDing the world we want in order to BE Love?

I’m inviting us to think about what we are practicing.

I’m inviting us to consider seeing opposition as an opportunity to heal.

Mostly, I’m inviting myself to remember to keep practicing love.

Reflections on My 2017 Sabbatical

I can’t believe its been a year since I published on this website! So much has happened. I have actually been writing pretty steadily but its been creating guides and handbook’s for organizing [much of which I will be releasing soon!] I feel the urge to pick this up again. So I thought I’d update something I wrote for BLM in February that I always meant to publish but never did. It a reflection on my Sabbitical that I took in December of 2017. These questions were developed by Erika Totten and I for when folks take sabbaticals so they can process their growth and communicate it to the tribe. As most of you know I have since left BLM DC but as I’m still committed to movement work, I thought some of you might be interested in some of what I’ve been struggling with. Most of this was written 6 months ago with a few more recent updates. More to follow soon!

  • What prompted your spiritual sabbatical? What feedback were you receiving that let you know you needed a sabbatical?  From what, where or who were you receiving that feedback?

 

 

My sabbatical was prompted by many things. I made a commitment to myself, in 2016, that I would take the month of December off as a sabbatical every year. In addition, I was feeling burnt out in May of 2017 and had resolved to leave BLM by September 2017. It has been coming increasingly clear to me that activism is not the work that I am on earth to do. After reflection, it seemed that organizing might not be it either. I needed to take time to figure out what it might be.

 

I sent around a survey to get feedback on how I had been showing up over the years. It has really informative if hard to hear some of the feedback. I spent a long time [a few weeks] really sitting with it. In leaving BLM a few months ago I was able to gain some perspective and then starting getting some feedback from spirit and needing to sit with that.

 

 

  • What have you learned about how you were showing up?

 

 

I was increasingly becoming aware that the person I am at our events, grouchy, short tempered and neuoritcaly focused on perceived failure is not who I really am. Through my previous movement work, I spent entirely too much time as that person. Thus, a sabbatical was needed. In addition, a growing number of women activist had been commenting, both directly and indirectly, about toxic masculinity in my actions in movement spaces. I sat with these comments for a long time and had a lot of useful accountability session with organizers I was close with.

 

I realized that there were multiple things happening. One, my anxiety about activism often feds a domineering habit I have learned from this society to limit options to control outcomes. This domineering is felt as toxic masculinity by many women I work with who then feel shut down. I say felt as, not because I don’t believe it is toxic masculinity but becomes I’ve come to see that is is more useful, to me, to talk about domination as a universal logic. My anxiety about the event going well makes me feel like I’m in conflict which triggers a scarcity response which leads me to try and control outcomes. This attempt at controlling of outcomes is domination that is read as patriarchy by some, middle class tendencies by others and still by others as an internalization of white supremacist urgency.

 

Everyone I work with, has both a personal and communal [identity-based] relationship to Black men showing up in that way. The type of women I am generally close too–strong willed, charismatic Black women, used to standing in their power, who have a personal experience with anxiety–react very differently than women I know less well. While some of the women were no doubt projecting their trauma onto me, as leader who wields power in my community I believe I am responsible for taking that trauma into account for how I move through spaces. I am reminded of one of my greatest recent lessons learned, you don’t have to be wrong in order to change. I essence, I don’t have to accept that I am doing something inherently wrong to understand that is a better, more feminist, more trauma informed way for showing up that I can practice. That being said, it is important to me to recognize that there were ways I was show up that were wrong, and not in alignment with the values I profess and believe.

 

In addition, thanks to Autumn and addrienne brown’s podcast on the intricacies of the latest star wars movie, I also realized that I have some more growing to do in unlearning patriarchy habits. addrienne talks about Poe Dameron and his relationship to admirals of the resistance [Organa and Holdo]. Poe’s masculine hubris is not like the self-serving egotistical Han Solo. Poe is not interested in his own life or even his reputation. While he is clear that he is the best pilot in the galaxy, he in generally concerned with fighting the empire. His issue is that he can only imagine opposing Empire through heroism. Though ego driven exultations to others the sacrifice themselves for the cause.

 

This, to me, represents what Horace Campbell calls “the patrichical model for liberation.” It is when militarism masquerades as revolutionary thought. Poe is unconsciously more interested in heroics than the true cause of revolution, which Rose puts well, which is to save what we love and not fight what we hate. His masculine bravado is not the problem, though I’m sure it is irritating. It’s his masculine sacrifice for sake of beating the enemy rather than getting and living free. This is my growing edge around unlearning patriarchy. I have a tendency to focus on a goal that I alone have decided is important and leading people to sacrifice themselves to attain it. I then fall into the trap of criticizing those who don’t want to sacrifice for my goal as not being fully committed to the revolution. Yet as Poe demonstrates, the patrichical model of liberation tends to get folks killed.

 

  • What lies were you telling yourself?

 

I think I was allowing my frustration, stress and some negative tendencies in the movement draw me into victim consciousness. I began to blame what I saw as a lack of progress to people’s unwillingness to commit themselves to healing. I told myself lies about the people I organize with that caused me to overlook their growth. I told lies about the slow, painful and resource intensive nature of my own growth as if I just decided to transform instantaneously to person I am now or that I am now fully formed.

 

I also told lies that I needed to prove that the principles of transformation I operate from are right and useful. I told lies about the proof of my value being in the explicit external recognition of my value or in the “flash-points” and concrete moments of transformation that I could isolate and point to as “mine.” Yet ultimately, no change occurs because of one person’s initiation. Our worth cannot be proven, only known. You cannot own transformation and you are not what you accomplish.

 

Ultimately these lies caused me to live a life of a lie. Activism and campaign organizing is not the work that makes my spirit sing. It is not the only way I can contribute to Black Liberation. If I’m honest, my commitment to Black Liberation is not about winning or toppling the systems oppression we face. I am, at my core, interesting in what we can achieve collectively through self-actualization. I believe that Black people are in a unique position to lead the world to self-actualization. I also just enjoy working with Black people. That is the real reason I do this work. I work to dismantle white supremacy because it stands in the way of the self-actualization of the human species.

 

I understand that to get free we will have to do some work that doesn’t make our spirit sing but I am convinced that it shouldn’t be more than 25% doing work you hate. Honestly. It’s too draining otherwise. I hate doing logistics for events.  I hate reminding people of things we agreed to do. I hate constantly having to convince people to do things that I see as important.

 

What I love to do, what makes my spirit sing, is to help people figure out how to get what they want. Once someone knows what they truly, deeply want [not just what they think they can ask for] I love strategizing about how to get there. I love helping facilitating learning in others and giving people frameworks to better navigate the world. I love organizing coalitions of organizations with a clear sense of direction and commitment.

 

Community organizing, in this moment, is more about building relationships, helping people identify the real problems, convincing them that it worth trying to solve them and bringing them into a formation with others to wield collective power. I’ve done that before. I’m not bad at it, but not great and it doesn’t make my spirit sing. Its crucial though. Without it, we can’t get free. But there are other people doing that who love it whom I can support.

 

  • Describe the process of shedding. What part of you had to die to give birth to your new self?

 

More of my beliefs centered around an illusion I have that I can control outcomes had to die. More of my investment in the illusion of certainty had to die. More of my investment in the protection my ego provides had to die. Perhaps most importantly, my binary thinking around right and wrong had to die. As my new revelations about how I had been showing up came to me and as I gained wisdom I began to see more and more flaws in my previous way of thinking. I was hesitant to accept these newer, more useful truths because it meant, at the time, saying that I had been wrong. My friend Erika helped me realize that thinking of it as wrong is a function of my ego. A more useful story is to say that I had been transformed and know had a more complex and complicated understand of the truth.

 

The process of these deaths was deep internal reflection done in absolute solitude. I was alone and disconnected for much of my sabbatical which was a gift and a curse. Being alone and secluded in my room was not actually physically healthy for me even if it was spiritually useful to an extent. My body started hurting from hours of sitting down and reading with no movement or fresh air. I also became drained without social contact. I was reminded that I need to resist going to extremes whether it working 16 hour days or retreating into a hermit’s life. I have to find a way to consistently engaged in the world while being grounded and spacious with it.

 

  • What have you been reflecting on?

 

I have been reflecting on the person that activism brings out in me. I have been thinking about my tendency to shift into deconstruction and critique and immediately see all the flaws in plans and people when I put on my activist hat. I have also been thinking about my tendency to throw myself into the work and shut of parts of myself when I go into movement work.

 

A few months back from my sabbatical and I’m sitting with what it takes to bring your whole self into this work. How much energy it takes to process each emotion and feel it all the way through. How much time it takes to not let your home life suffer for the sake of the moment. How many more skills you have to develop when you don’t have time to spend hours disconnecting into to slowly process just enough of the emotion to bottle it all back up again.

 

I’ve been reflecting on the role identity can and should play in movement for liberation?  What is the nature of the state and how could you coordinate human activity at the scale we need to in order to address climate change without it. While those questions seem abstract and theoretical I experience them as visceral. The might determine whether I should continue building all Black space or build Black spaces only for Black nationhood. What could a Black nation look like without a state? Should I be organizing to transform America or leave it?

 

I have also been reflecting on what this moment in history is, what is needed and what role can, should and do I want to play?

 

  • What new commitments are you going to make moving forward?

 

I committed to centering practices that give the spaciousness I need to show up in ways I want to. This means developing spiritual practice that allows me to move from center at the start and end of everyday. It means prioritizing work and only taking work that aligned with my values, commitments and vision.

 

I have committed to allowing myself and others to be human. To realize that we are not always skillful, rational, connected or grounded. We make mistakes and stumble and get confused. The more I allow myself some compassion and grace the easier it will be for me to have patience with others.

 

  • What new sources of joy, sustenance and resilience have you found to support you moving forward.

 

I’m still struggling with this, even six months after the sabbatical.  I still have so much anxiety and stress. I think I’m still working on leaving commitments that don’t serve me. I’m still trying to figure out want balance looks and feels like. I think one thing I have learned [from some reading on Taoism] is the importance of holding without grasping. Of noticing unmet needs without increasing desires unnecessarily by pinning for them or thinking of them constantly. Eat when you are hungry rather than keep working but fantasizing about eating. When you finally eat you will overindulge because wants can never be satisfied only needs.

 

This has been a big lesson for me. I’m a dreamer. Any my ability to dream is so important for the creative visioning I do. I didn’t realize that vision and fantasy are very different. My fantasies cultivate a desire for revolution tomorrow, for fame, for acceptance, for recognition. They aren’t just ideas, or neutral fantasy. As the Buddhist say, you are always practicing something. I’m learning to hold unto my vision for my life without grasping for tomorrow. I think that is becoming a major source of resilience for me. Just to be here, in this moment, accepting this as what is without accepting it as what has to be.

 

  • What ongoing support are you going to need going forward and from whom?

 

I’m going to mostly need support from myself, to let the things die that need to die. To stick with this path of unraveling, to see it to the end. I’m going to the support of loved ones and friends in ways that I will communicate to them privately. Mostly I need support in asking for support lol.

 

  • What kind of accountability do you need to show up differently?

 

I want people to tell me about myself. The feedback I receive is helpful. I also want people to make explicit asks of me. I think I spent so long doing where I thought I was needed that I forget the necessity of being invited to support. I think people I know are so used to me just doing what I’ve always done that they don’t ask, it’s assumed. When I do things that people don’t like, often there is silence and I won’t hear about it for weeks at a time. I think the more feedback I can get and more direct asking I receive the more spaciousness I can carve out for myself.

 

Black Men Are Only Good When We Are Exceptional…Or Dead.

Black Women's Silence Has Never Gotten Us Free, Love.

 

All of this talk about Jay-Z has, not surprisingly, made me feel some kind of way.

I remember getting a call from my friend a few months ago, a Black woman, who lived in the New York at the time. She had been on my mind because she is a fountain of joy overflowing with the strength of truth telling. I wanted to talk to her because someone I cared about had just been sexually assaulted and I needed help processing it. I needed help figuring out how to be supportive.  Before I got a chance to talk with her about my friend, she told me about getting sexually harassed on the subway and she wanted to talk it through with me.

I listened to her story and tried, as best as I could, to be supportive of her. Eventually, she got to the point that all the Black women in my life get to in stories like this. The point where they say “but I just didn’t want to say anything because I feel like Black men are already so attacked right now, you know?” I had heard it before. It was the same reason that the person close to me did not want to report what had happened to her.

I was immediately filled with rage.

The rage of my friends being unsafe. The rage at understanding that these assaults are not isolated incidents. The rage at the reminder that they had just killed Philando Castile and it was not safe to be a Black man in America. But mostly the rage that my persecution was used to silence my sister. Rage that Black men could simultaneously be so monstrous that we need to put down for caring a pen and so fragile that talking about street harassment would tear us asunder. Rage that rage was the only feeling I knew how to feel.

I told my friend the only thing I could: “Black women’s silence has never gotten us free, love.”

To which she replied “But we keep trying it, don’t we.”

We do.

 

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” –Zora Neale Hurston

 

Black men have survived the middle passage, slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow and lynching. How have we gotten to the point where we think Black men can’t survive the truth? Black people need Black women to break their silence.

Patriarchy, like all forms of oppression, breeds in isolation. Black people cannot get free if 51% of our people are in chains of a Black man’s making. AND, at the same time, I can’t shake the weight of the reality that Black men are only good when we are exceptional…or dead. And let’s be honest, usually only when we are dead.

I wonder sometimes. Did anyone ever call Mike Brown a good kid to his face, when he was still alive for it to matter? Did we tell Eric Garner he was a good father for doing whatever he could to bring home some change before his daughter told us to organize? Did people tell Trayvon that he had a bright future before a white man robbed him of it? I doubt it happened very often.

Black men are mostly talked about when we ain’t shit, absent or dead. Oh, there’s Idris’s too fine ass or Jessie Williams before he started dating white women… but they are exceptional. We only talk about them in contrast to other men, especially other Black men. The serial rapist Bill Cosby had more Black people capping for his lying ass than any Black man I know personally…because he was exceptional. He used to be exceptionally respectable and now we know he’s exceptionally fucked up.

Again, Black women hold me down. They always have and history has shown that they probably always will. In private, Black men support me while holding me accountable. Yet for the most part, besides my chosen and blood sisters, even the Black women who support me, praise me for being exceptional. I’ve done “the work.” I read bell hooks. I support the women in life in visible ways. I have mastered performative solidarity. I’ve learned how to be what my friend once called “a safe nigga.”

It’s rare that I am told that I’m still worthy of being loved when I’ve fucked up, especially from other men. It’s rare that people remind me, when I come home tired and angry from walking through a white world, that I’m still worthy of being loved. Like my uncle used to say, ain’t no body going to thank you for paying the bills on time, but they sure do holla when it gets shut off.

There is some sad truth to the old Chris Rock joke that niggas always want credit for some shit we supposed to do. Imma be honest. I really need that shit. Part of my on-going journey in overcoming patriarchy is to be in touch with my pain and be real about my needs. I know I am responsible for meeting 80% of my needs myself but that other 20% can be so crucial. I need, and I think Black men as a whole need, some public validation that even when we are alive and unexceptional, we are worthy of love. We need it from Black women and Black GNC folk but mostly, I think we need it from each other.

I think honestly I’d settle for the recognition that these social expectations are literally killing me. Paying the bills on time is a struggle when the bills are more than you make every month.

Sometimes I wish people recognized that the way I used my overdraft protection and post-dated checks like credit is Black boy alchemy. Me and my brothers are stretching a week’s pay to a month’s electricity like an old testament prophet.  I wish people realized that my ability to remind my sisters that they are beautiful despite what society tells them is the art of Black male healing that my grandfather taught me.

I wish that I had been taught that my desire to push people further, to realize their full potential, could be sacred masculinity; that I didn’t have to tear folks down to build them up. I wish we talked more about Black men who didn’t need to drag Black women over the coals in order to heal and get their shit together. I wish we could have a holiday to thank all the Black men whose aggressive posturing towards white people on street corners is the only reason I can afford to live in my neighborhood.

Sometimes I’ve wished that there were more writers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. I wish there were more writers who could express their love for me. I wish I could tell all the little Black boys jumping rope and being carefree that they are the real MVP. I wish I was better at telling my own father that I love him. I wish everyone knew him like I did.  I wish I could explain that I forgive him for being so tired every day when he came home…cause the bills were always paid on time. I wish we knew how to do that while recognizing that my mother paid more bills that he did.

I wish there was way to be real about the fact that my mother learned how to carry all that weight and still smile and play puppet games and that the difference in their capacity for affection is real and fucked up and still doesn’t detract from the fact that my dad loved me and showed it. He showed me he loved me in the only way he knew how, until he learned to show it better, to say it better, to apologize for not showing it in healthy ways and do better to love by building us up without tearing us down. I wish we knew how to praise him for learning how to love without losing sight of the system that never taught him.

I believe, and will always believe, that Black women need to speak their truth and their pain. The truth of all those 0-4:33 women show us how much work we have to do. It forces us to be better. But I need our politics to tell the whole story: that we are still good while we are trying to get to better.

I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who stay, who hold families and communities down. I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who show up and quietly do the work. I need a politics that can praise Black male charisma as divine and beautiful and necessary even as it challenges its centrality. I need a politics that can hold the reality of rape culture in one hand and the capacity for Black men to address harm without causing more harm in the other. I need a politics that can hold the capacity for violence in Black patriarchy and the reality of Black male growth.

I need a politics that can hold all of me and love me even, maybe especially, when I’m not exceptional.

I need a politics that can love me before I’m dead.

The Rise of the Party for Revolution and Evolution [U.S Social Transformation in the Post War Period]

*this is the third piece of speculation political fiction in a series written with just a hint of satire in the form of a Wikipedia article form the future. You can see the first piece here. The second piece is here. The purpose is imagine what all this craziness from the White House might be building to while envisioning how peace might come out of chaos and tragedy. We should not take Trump’s idiocy or bluster lightly. When the autocrat says he is coming for you believe him! I believe we can prevent violence in the long run if we build for transformation and autonomy now*

 

Overview:

 

The Party for Revolution and Evolution [PRE] is a political party and revolutionary group founded in 2021 in Detroit during WW3. It was founded during a joint effort between the Grace Lee Boggs society, an underground political group prominent in Detroit during the Enlightened Retreat, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement to take over Detroit’s political establishment. The party rose to prominence by taking the best practices for mass mobilization from several preceding social movements and political campaigns including Occupy, Bernie Sanders failed nomination run and the M4BL and mixing it with a revolutionary analysis of autonomy and transformation. The party was also protected and supported by its clandestine arm, the Maroon Society.

In just four years, the PRE went from an unknown speakeasy in Detroit to a major political party in America. Though the folk narrative focuses on organizers and political agents who have become legend and of the rise of the Maroon Society, most historian agree that the party was an idea whose time had come. Decades of ineffective government culminating in the Bush/Obama cultural war era created mass disillusionment with government that had two sides: apathy and anger. Bernie Sanders had used one in his failed bid to use win the Democratic Party nomination before the enlightened retreat while Donald Trump had used both against each other to get elected.

Beneath this national narrative there was a lot of work being done in smaller local third parties across the country during this time. As the enlightened retreat slowly developed spiritually grounded networks of engaged people at a time when most ideologies from socialism to liberalism were at best not clearly understood or at worst becoming irrelevant, the PRE was able to assemble many long simmering organizing campaigns together with progressive and radical organizations into a political powerhouse based on few revolutionary principles:

  1. Addressing harm without causing more harm
  2. Moving beyond non-violence
    1. Moving away from debates on violence vs. non-violence and towards seeing peace and self-determination as means not just ends
  3. Centering autonomy as interdependence
    1. organizing where you are at, with your people, for your own needs while supporting your neighbors
  4. Centering consent as radical co-creation
    1. Valuing the co-creation of political, economic, social, spiritual and sexual experiences with an eye towards addressing differences in power, resources, desire and ability so that everyone is fully powerful
  5. Repairing harm
    1. Embracing multi-lateral reparations in a diversity of forms for the history of slavery, genocide, mass patriarchal violence, forced migration and accumulation by dispossession
  6. Differential Political Movement
    1. Using the strategies of previous social movements as tactics to build accountable-power-with
    2. Embracing tradition while leaving what no longer serves us behind
  7. Being Holistic
    1. Addressing all issues holistically by simultaneous examining the intrapersonal, interpersonal, communal and structural aspects of a situation
  8. Emergent Strategy of Being
    1. Moving from a problem solving/deficient centered strategy to an emergent strategy based on embodying values and moving towards what we actually want
  9. Moving from a place of love
    1. Being gentle with ourselves so that we can be constructive with others
    2. Focusing on the power of love to remind us of our positive vision of the love, support and joy we want, not merely the hurt we want avenged
  10. Diversity of Strategies
    1. There is no one correct path to liberation. We seek to strengthen every front against oppression not to merely hold a party line. It’s more effective to coordinate everyone contributing the way they know how towards a common goal than to try and convince everyone that you have the one right path.

 

 

The key to these principles were that they were few, straight forward and fractal. It meant that they guided the interactions between individuals as much as they would the U.S government’s relationship to the rest of the world under the nearly 30 year democratic majority rule of the PRE. The principles, along with their strategy of connecting the mutual aid networks that were emerging into regional assemblies quickly made them a powerful alternative political force.

Their non-sectarianism that focused on embodying social/ethical/political values and shared visions for another possible world rather debating over how society is structured allowed for them to encapsulate many divergent political tendencies across the left-center spectrum while constructively engaging moderates on the right. It was also a key to their counter-organizing strategy to out organize far-right elements in the South and West.

Many scholars believe that the true fuel for the rise of the PRE wasn’t even political in the traditional sense. The vast majority of U.S residents cared little for political theory and much more about the food, housing, medical and worker cooperatives that the PRE stitched together. The PRE’s focus on hyper-local community-controlled direct service was its real strength.

Rather than build local mutual aid networks from scratch, PRE organizers applied the self-governing skills they had developed in their speakeasies to help facilitate meetings and complex democratic decision making processes for local groups. They were more conveners, networkers and facilitators than traditional revolutionaries. They linked the small, nearly illegible acts of everyday resistance and mutual aid that communities were already doing on their own into something more intentional on a large scale. Most importantly, they rarely focused on confronting the state they usually just out competed it for legitimacy by better meeting the needs of local people.

 

Political and Economic Context for the Rise of the PRE

For the spiritual and cultural context see the enlightened retreat

The U.S duopoly of Republicans and Democrats were so locked in a pitched battle of name-calling and responsibility shrugging that they neither party had been able to legislate a complete agenda for decades. The only faction that was consistently able to put forward its agenda were the corporate neo-liberals whose desire to deregulate, liberalize and privatize was accepted by both parties in various forms.  Even Presidents Trump bombastic rhetoric against renegotiating the “bad deals” of NAFTA and TPP didn’t lead to any substantial changes to those agreements. In fact, his Infrastructure bill was nearly entirely written for and by neo-liberal billionaires and their supporters.

However, the ongoing competition between individuals of the billionaire class and the political oligarchy of America’s ruling families meant that while they universally recognized the crisis of both capitalism and liberal democracy they had vastly different ideas of how to deal with either. This lack of class unity meant that they were slow to curtail the rise of cooperative economies and mutual aid groups nationally.

Corporations saw the threat to their bottom line but were unwilling to allow any regulatory body authority over business, even if it disproportionately affected their competitors. Attempts by organizations such as ALEC to bring about consensus on how to combat cooperatives was thwarted by the campaigns of corporate sabotage by the Maroon Society and eco-direct action groups like Gaia’s Progeny.

Movement scholar Jasmine Nwampa posited that “corporations were also unprepared for the dramatic shift to organizing at the point of consumption instead of production. Many capitalist saw the crisis of capital coming and assumed that either social democracy or some form of semi-privatized commons would have to be instituted to save industrial capitalist society. They did not expect people to merely take over and transform the market in the way that they did. By the time the writing was on the wall, they busy putting out literal fires up and down their supply chain.”

Most corporations were moving towards flexibility and sense and response supply chains that we able to respond to the market changes in record time. Amazon is a great example of this trend and its ultimate weakness. Amazon sought to use advances in internet usage, cloud storing, off shoring, automation and the gig economy to get cheaply made products, delivered equally cheaply by contractors within hours of being ordered.

They were largely successful in this effort. In addition, they were experts in trying to assess the consumer’s need in real-time and respond in addition to using big data to predict it. Their mass conglomerations of website, T.V stations and newspapers also gave them significant control creating new needs in consumerism while they forced their competitors to sell on their network.

Many contemporary scholars assumed that this model was the model of the future. Many leftist predicted an age of the super corporation that controlled the means of production and the market itself. However, few people foresaw the massive cultural shift away from consumerism that was precipitated by the enlightened retreat. While corporations like amazon were able to push forward the narrative of more and better, the cultural shift towards various self-reflection techniques made people want more autonomy and higher ethical standards in production.

It turns out that simple questions of Americans asking themselves where they hurt and what was causing it turned them away from seeing more consumption as the answer. Matched with corporate sabotage, boycotts and the rise of cooperatives even Amazon’s state of the ark monopoly collapsed into financial ruin.

While national right to work devastated labor unions, the movement for economic justice and self-determination emerged through consumer unions, cooperative associations,  CSA’s and the rise of increased worker-center and alt-labor organizing. Undeniably, the lack of powerful organized labor caused wages to drop severely and workplace accidents to increase just as fast. However, the resulting economic anxiety and anger was first expressed ass wildcat strikes and spontaneous boycotts that disrupted corporations enough to allow for the emergence of consumer unions and worker cooperatives.

Eventually consumer unions started boycotting companies with bad labor practices and launched buying campaigns for worker-owned cooperatives. Similarly, the rise of free-lancers guilds changed the face of the gig economy by widely boosting the desired prevailing wage and training workers on how and why to negotiate higher pay.

The rapidly increasing effects of climate change also devastated the political establishment and corporations. This time period in history saw an increase in massive natural disasters that devastated cities across the U.S. The Ryan Regime privatized FEMA in response to the abysmal job FEMA did during the Hurricane Jasmine humanitarian crisis of 2021. While ‘crisis capitalism’ saw an opportunity in climate change, they were out organized by far more effective mutual aid systems.

Meanwhile the rich paid millions of dollars for ex-special forces to extract them from climate change ‘red zones,’ the poor built environmental defense teams, survival camps and developed mesh networks that could be booted up in a crisis. Integration of the Rising Tide and Occupy Sandy networks with the PRE expanded these programs while building an effective alternative to both corporation and the state which in turned caused more people to turn to mutual aid.

Lastly, the PRE was also able to escape the brunt of political repression of the era due to federal government and corporative interest’s pre-occupation with combating the maroon society and by counter recruiting against fascist and white nationalist elements. The PRE’s greatest success was in creating the illusion that the PRE and the Maroon society were two separate and mutual antagonist organizations. However, it is now known that the Maroon Society was the clandestine arm of the PRE throughout most of its history. Not only were many Maroon Society members PRE members but the PRE funneled money to the Maroon Society and turned a blind eye when Maroons took refuge in their houses of hospitality.

Most historians agree that the Maroon Society created the political opportunities that the PRE took advantage of. The Maroon Societies devastating campaign of industrial sabotage, agit-prop campaigns, and prison/detention center breaks deeply unsettled the Ryan Regime and prevented them from ever consolidating power. The Maroon Societies “Rainbow Coalition” also counter recruited so effectively that White Supremacist organizations that were so powerful during the Unending March were marginal just six years later. For more on the Maroon Society visit “The Second American Revolution.”

 

 

General Strikes

 

The beginning of the end of the Enlightened Retreat was the general strike of the defense industry in 2021. Most scholars agree that the general strikes helped set the ground work for the PRE. The strike was organized by collaboration between the East Coast chapters of the Black Lives Matter [BLM] Network who partnered with International Workers of the World [IWW] across the country. While most historians agree that the general strike only effected a handful of factories and did not significantly threaten the war effort they also agree that it was a major symbolic victory.

It showed the maturation of the fight for racial justice with one the first major multi-racial attacks against racialized capitalism and imperialism. It also gave an example of effective organizing to all the networks of mutual aid that had been building over the last 3 years.

The subsequent trial of the BLM leaders was meant to instill fear in other dissidents. The leaders of the campaign were pulled from their houses at night and brutally detained. The police feared brutality against young white people would back fire against the state, especially considering that the IWW had their largest presence on elite college campuses that were doing Department of Defense research. Thus they rounded up the white IWW organizers gently and in secret. This tactic actually backfired as it showed blatant racism and racial disparities of policing as well as deep class differences.

Attorney General Rudolf [Ruddy] Giuliani charged the organizers with treason, a tactic that was meant to scare off further organizing but seemed more like government overreach as the penalty for treason was death. The trial was the most watched television event of the century and rather than discourage protests it inspired them across the country. The BLM leaders who were sentenced to life in prison all became leaders in the Maroon Society after their storied prison break in 2022.

As dead American men and women returned home from WW3, the organizing within the defense industry got more and more wide spread. After Teen Vogue released an exposé on the U.S government’s use of South African contract killers in the oil fields of Nigeria, public opinion turned against the war sharply. Despite the motion to bring back the draft failing in the house, the U.S saw anti-war protests that far outstripped the Vietnam era.

The speakeasies of the enlightened retreat planned strikes and rallies just as they had the rolling black outs. They sent messages through the farmer’s marches and during concerts. In later years, PRE workers organized churches to created packed lunch services for the workers on Easter Sunday and placed pamphlets that said “The lord commanded ‘thou shalt not kill’ don’t do the devils work for him. Strike for Peace and God on May 1st.”

Many PRE chapters sprung up in response to these mobilizations after the D.C PRE merged the analysis of the party with their own mass organizing trainings in 2023. The synergy of the PRE guiding principles with the DAT analysis that had gained popularity during the Enlightened Retreat allowed for thousands of activists to learn how to effectively organize and build political, economic and cultural power.

This allowed for distributed organizing on a massive scale as each city ran its own team of organizers coordinating thousands of volunteers also running their own campaigns. After three consecutive years of month long general strikes in the month of May, it was estimated that 35% of the industries workers took part and the United States signed the Beijing Accords ending WW3 in 2025.

 

Down But Not Out: Labor Unions and the PRE

For more on the Labor Movement in the 2020’s and 2030’s see the 21st Century Knights of Labor

 

Though devastated by National Right to work legislation, traditional labor unions played a significant role in the rise of the PRE. Most notably, the reconstructed Knights of Labor utilized solidarity unionism on an international level. Historian Stuart Le’Mark surmises their shift during the period thusly “previously ‘international unions’ weren’t actually that international at all. They usually meant the U.S and part of Canada. They were generally based on a model that could be summed at using the dues of 90% of the workers to focus on 10% of the workers; the 5% of that are active and the 5% that get in trouble. After national right to work, unions transitioned to a more worker center model of training working activists.

They disrupted production through direct action, mostly blockades on the entrances of workplaces and strategic slowdowns in which one or two key workers would stage a protest that prevented the other workers from working. Often they would do protests in stages, so that production would be disrupted for a whole day. Though much shorter than traditional strikes or slowdown’s, the shift to immediate delivery of products meant that companies could lose millions if products were delivered after their 3 hour guarantee.”

Additionally, groups like the Knights of Labor worked with organizations that managed to survive right to work like United Electricians and the Nurses Union to fund the organizing of workers further down the production line in countries that were termed “third world.” Unions were able to send money to worker centers and unions in other countries where a worker made several times less than a U.S worker and pay a whole factory to go on strike for a week.

Often times, these would be tied with boycott’s and slowdowns in the U.S. Eventually, the Knights of Labor would organize international strikes, factory blockades and work with free-lancer guilds to disrupt the gig economy that many companies relied on. These combined attacks were paired with combined demands that crossed sections of a company and locations across the world. Eventually, Knights of Labor and groups like Gaia’s Progeny would collaborate to make demands on entire industries.

All told, the smaller but still resurgent economic justice movement put capital on the defense for the first time in decades just as they seemed their most triumphant. Corporations were unable to rebound in time to stop the rise of the cooperative movement.

 

Accomplishments of the early PRE

 

By the formal end of the War in 2025, the PRE had 40 congressional seats, 6 senate seats, 10 mayoral positions, and the governorship in California. While it would not get a majority until 2030, its economic and cultural cooperatives fundamentally reshaped the country. The PRE had massive political power and used it to lobby governments at the local, state and federal level. Its deep cultural base and value of participatory democracy politicized its membership more effectively than any America political party since the communist party of the 30’s. Yet the real strength of the PRE was in the alternatives to the government it fostered.

PRE chapters run soup kitchens, childcare centers and crisis prevention teams across the country. Borrowing from the Catholic Worker Movement, chapters ran houses of hospitality that provided both affordable housing and refuge for immigrants on the Underground Railroad. The PRE’s great strength was working with ordinary Americans and taking the next step. They didn’t try to politicize people into their analysis, rather they went into communities, saw people helping each other out and asked if they could support them in any way. The mass radicalization happened mostly due to police repression. As grandmothers who opened up their homes to orphaned children were arrested, communities become more militant than any reading group or manifesto could have made them.

The PRE’s task was merely to build the infrastructure to support and develop people who were being radicalized and grow the techniques to coordinate all the projects they self-organized.  This was no small task. It was accomplished largely due to traveling facilitators and popular education teachers of the era. These trainers [often called griots in Black communities] went from city to city observing successful mutual aid programs, writing about them online and traveling to other cities to teach people how to do them. Cooperation Jackson and the British Columbia Cooperative Network played a leading role in creating best practices for cooperative development.

Due to the repression of the Ryan Regime and Proud Boy Brigades, these trainers were often travelling artists or Djays who used their art to cover the political nature of their work. Their teach-ins would often happen after the show. Some troupes like the Puppet Posse, incorporated their political education into the art itself. Despite these precautions, these traveling artist were the most often detained revolutionary actors of the period and would later become leaders of the prison riots of the 2030’s.

Most of the political accomplishments of the early PRE were at the local level. The massive increase in social engagement after the Enlightened Retreat kicked off a revolution in governance and civil society often called the “Civic Renaissance.” The PRE ended bans of rent control, instituted new local tax codes for consumer and worker cooperatives and abolished bail and ticketing as alternative sources of municipal income.

As a result, worker cooperatives went from barely statistically relevant in 2018 to nearly 20% of the economy in 2030 playing the same role in raising wages as unions formerly did. Many areas raised local corporate tax rates and, with the Financial Services Reform Act of 2026, established public banks and credit unions so that city budget would no longer be tied Wall Street’s whims. The PRE followed the blue-print in the Jackson Kush Plans and the Gar Alperovitz’s Pluralist Common Wealth for their local development schemes.

Many localities had radical experiments with different financial and political institutions. Seattle, D.C and Montgomery County all passed participatory budgeting of at least 15% of the budget in 2025. By 2035, 30 major American cities based similar initiatives. The entire states of Washington, California, New York and Connecticut developed land bonds that paid for public housing throughout the state. Oakland, CA, Jackson M.S and Washington D.C all passed Community Control Board for their police departments in 2027 and by 2035 this was a standard practice in most cities.

Healthcare saw one of the most complete overhauls under after the end of the Enlightened Retreat. The Nurses Union emerged as one of the strongest unions after national right to work legislation devastated the AFL-CIO. The nurses unions were pivotal parts of many of the community controlled direct service providers at the time and helped move America towards the Burtzorg model of homecare used in the Netherlands.

The National Patients Association was founded in 2027 as a federation of local patient care groups that forced major concessions from hospitals and insurances companies by launching a medical bill payment strike in 2028-2029. They forced hospitals and insurers to agree to medical patient’s bills of rights, which capped costs, made many services nearly free and forced insurance companies to pay for non-western medical treatments at the patients’ request.

Due to rise of Freedom Schools during the enlightened retreat and the abolition of the Department of Education under President Ryan, many localities passed voucher programs that allowed parents to choose which school to send their children and in many cases provided startup money for “small community schools” administered by local PTA’s.

When the Department of Education was re-established in 2032, 25% of children went to alternative schools of some form. Instead of returning to old system of public education, the PRE invested heavily in parent education and organizing and strengthened local parent associations and mandated parent centers at every school that received voucher money. With increased flexibility religious schools, free schools and ethno-centric educations became much more common to mixed results.

By 2040 however, there was revitalization of the American education system. With a decrease in consumerism, increase in the average wage and wide spread rent control parents had much more time to engage with their child’s education. With the mandated parent centers at each school, neighborhoods developed support systems to educate parents and support them in guiding their own children’s education.

This led to an informed community driven school model that changed from testing based, high pressure schooling to more project based learning that focused on nurturing whole children. The emphasis on math and science was replaced by an emphasis on emotional learning, appreciate inquiry and conflict resolution. As the technical aspect of educations was destressed, America saw arise in apprenticeship programs and comprehensive job training for college graduates.

In the 2020’s consumer organizing started to play a larger role in corporate regulation as organizations like Safe Food Network and Consumers Against Sweat Shops launched boycott and buy campaigns that created new markets for Fair Trade, Sustainable and High Wage industries throughout the United States. In the 2030’s, worker centers launched worker defense teams that fought for higher wages and better conditions on the shop floor. The consumer protection act of 2030 gave legal sanction and funding to these activities so worker centers, free-lancer guilds, and consumer unions replaced Worker Unions as the backbone of the economic justice movement. By 2040, the sustainable, fair trade goods produced with high labor standards had become the norm.

The progressive development of the United States was fairly uneven though much of this period and republican control areas in the American South and Midwest hampered much of the PRE’s work. However, with the election of 2030, the PRE took control of both houses of the federal government while the Democrats controlled the presidency until the election of Kelly Hadad in 2036.

With control of the House, the PRE immediately checked executive power by repealing the War Powers Act and Patriot Act in February of 2031. The PRE went on to slowly devolve much of their federal authority to states while increasing federal protections for marginalized people. Once in control of the U.S. government, the PRE would become well known and revered for its bottom up strategy to dealing with the catastrophic effects of climate change.

The PRE strategy of “empowering the people” revolutionized the role of the government in society as its general assemblies pushed for a constantly devolving of federal and eventually state authority to local mass assemblies. Often times the PRE politicians were at odds with the will of the people’s assemblies yet because the PA’s were the core of the party they won nearly every political disagreement.

 

The Enlightened Retreat: U.S Social Movements from 2018-2025

*this is the second piece of speculation political fiction written with just a hint of satire written in the form of a Wikipedia article form the future. You can see the first piece here. The purpose is imagine what all this craziness from the white house might be building to while envision how peace might come out of chaos and tragedy. We should not take Trump’s idiocy or bluster lightly. When the autocrat says he is coming for you believe him! I believe we can prevent violence in the long run if we build for transformation and autonomy now*

Overview:

 

The Enlightened Retreat, often called the DAT Revolution, is name of the powerful social movement that led to the fall of U.S Empire in the period of beginning with the Unending March and the end of WW3.  The great retreat was a direct result of the mass arrests and political show trials against socialist, communist, feminist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizers and artist during the Trump-Ryan political crisis of 2017-2021. Unlike the repression of the 1950’s which marginalized American communism by making it un-American, the brutality of the wave of repression in the pre-war years, combined with the deep community building in the U.S oppositional organizing lead to a mainstreaming of autonomous and transformative local organizing.

Due to fact that most political speech ended in jail time after the inauguration of President Paul Ryan following the impeachment of President Trump and resignation of Vice President Mike Pence and the economic down turn following the student loan and rental housing bubble bursting in 2018, most political dissidents went from protesting the government to building small communities of care and support. This often took the form of soup-co-ops, group housing and rapid response medical and mental health care. As housing insecurity due to loan repayments became wide spread, “take back the land” campaigns become more and more common in major Urban Areas as displaced people started squats in their own rental units.

The cultural practices of Block Parties and “Free Markets” where people shared food, music and unneeded clothes and supplies with their neighbors slowly became the mainstream as overt political speech was heavily monitored and the economic crises deepened. Eventually, larger scale cooperatives and community sourced agriculture networks started to develop as the gas shortages from the Qatar crisis lead to increased prices on food imports.

Political organizers started printing off political pamphlets and convincing CSA vendors and block party organizers to distribute them in the food and clothing giveaways at their events. As these critical connections developed, organizers would ask residents of a neighborhood to turn off their lights from 8:30-9:00pm, a tactic latter called “rolling Black outs.” The Black outs were massive acts of political disobedience that were low risks to residents but sent a clear message to government. Though they were tolerated by the local police who were still reeling from the massive Black Bloc demonstrations in Oakland, Detriot and Portland and the Afrikan blocs in Jackson, M.S and Washington D.C in 2019, it was widely believed that these small acts of wide spread solidarity, gave everyday residents the courage to take back the streets years later. Despite the increase in protests from preceding the Enlightened Retreat, the number of overt street protests went from nearly 4,000 in 2018 to 7 in 2021.

The rapid decline in street protests and the shift from digital communication to old fashion newspaper printing combined with the a disarray in the FBI and homeland security following the haphazard management by the Trump administration created the allusion of a U.S populace shocked into compliance. This allowed for a remarkable amount of cultural and spiritual organizing to happen without much confrontation by the state.

The first general strike of the defense industry in 2021, was organized by the D.C speakeasy through pamphlets at regional block parties distributed by traveling DJ’s and hip hop groups on tour. The speakeasies, or underground social clubs, where organizers meet in secret to plan campaigns and write their political pamphlets, often became the chapter hubs for the leadership of the Party of Revolution and Evolution that would grow to power after WW3.

 

The Call for Retreat

 

Most historians mark the start of the Great Retreat with the distribution of the anonymous essay “the way out is in, together” in January 2018 after the mass arrests of protestors in Portland, OR. The essay, or memo as it was called at the time, called for a “deep collective grounding in our own desire for connection, loving touch, joy  and freedom that can fuel the fire we need to burn down the aspects of the system that no longer serve us.” The essay argued the personal was political and spiritual. It resonated with many by speaking to the deep alienation that neo-liberal capitalism instilled in advanced industrial societies while connecting that feeling and spiritual sense of loss to structures of oppression. Marvin Jeffries, who would later help organize the 2023 general strike famously posited that “the memo gave us language to discuss a problem we were too afraid to let ourselves feel, while showing us that we were not alone in feeling it and we were not feeling it because of our individual actions but rather a system that was producing specific conditions of pain.”

By the time President Paul Ryan began ordering the mass arrests of 2019, the essay was well known among U.S organizers. That year it was common for posters with graphic representations of the main ideas of the essay to be wheatpasted by young dissidents at the sites of disappearances of organizers or mass arrests after political demonstrations. As protests dwindled in winter of 2019 and beginning of 2020, the posters became popular decorations at church revivals, farmers markets and block parties across the country. After the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in May of 2020 made the distribution of the posters a felony, they often lost their overt political content and took on a more overly spiritual tone which ironically allowed them to resonate with aspects of the Christian community that should have been a natural base for Ryan regime.

In this same period, the new monostatic movement of young Christians was reaching its height as rising housing insecurity and gas prices mixed with erratic weather to force many people into communal living situations. As always, desperate times called for theologies of escape as well as theologies of liberation. This helped popularize a less formally religious but deeply socially engaged spirituality that spurred revivals of Judaism, mass conversions to the Baha’i faith and an increase in socially engaged practitioners of American Buddhism particularly the Order of Interbeing.

 

The Revolution Was [Partially] Funded

 

Perhaps the most surprising role of the Enlightened Retreat was the role the philanthropic community played in it. Throughout most of its history previously, philanthropic organization were heavily tied to interests of the ruling elite. Their role had traditionally been to stop capitalism from being too brutal by providing for some basic human services the state would not and channeling righteous anger of oppressed people to movements of reform from within current political and economic frameworks so that all social change rarely threatened the status quo of the ruling class.

Not surprisingly, the rise of “progressive” billionaire philanthropist like Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates who criticized government austerity programs and inequality actually fueled conservatives in government dismantling the welfare state by showing that they would donate in proportion to the increased need created by cuts in government spending. Their charity actually played well into the argument that it is “civil society’s” responsibility to care for the poor and not the government. Thus, when the housing bubble burst in 2018 and the Trump administration responded with tax cuts and corporate buy-outs, the top 20% of the wealthiest Americans saw an increase in wealth while the bottom 80% saw a substantial decrease. Therefore, the amount of money in Philanthropic communities increased dramatically while the class of middle class white people who managed the social service organizations that received most of that money now saw themselves eligible for the services they delivered.

While the privatizations of social services had tremendously devastating effects on services as workers lost wages and protections, it also significantly decentralized the how social services were provided. In perhaps one of the era’s deepest ironies, the privatization did in fact allow for more innovation but not more neo-liberal individualization.

The shrinking of the middle class ironically transformed social service delivery because they people who needed services were now mainstream and no longer just marginalized communities. This precipitated the rise of the community directed service model designed to empower formerly middle class white communities that quickly made its way into urban cores around the country. Like the embattled communist who entered unions in the 40’s and 50’s, the anti-racist, anti-authoritarians of the enlightened retreat who managed to avoid jail time entered direct service organizations in droves. These influx in former political activist radicalized the industry in unexpected ways. Perhaps the most profound change was the shift from top down, massively hierarchical organized to more self-managed teams doing hyper local service provision.

These hyper local teams of food trucks, health workers and small mental health clinics developed actual relationships with the community. While the overall racial, gender and class hierarchies and pay disparities remained [frontline staff being mostly underpaid women of color] the staff in the communities had much more autonomy than they had as government workers. Many of these front-line staffers were friends and relatives to members of the more overtly political and thus clandestine speakeasies of the era. They would end up playing a critical role in distributing the political pamphlets and often became block captains for the PRE during elections.

The Black communities who were the most devastated by social service cuts became the most invested in mutual aid programs. Due to America’s historic segregation, the Black middle class saw itself once again surrounded by poverty. However, due to the lack of overt discrimination in many industries, the Black upper class retained much of income despite losing much of its wealth in the housing bubble. This ironically put the Black middle class in position of having the income to donate to social improvement, while redlining and discrimination in housing loans meant that they were unable to leave and needed to find alternative ways to have economic security outside building family wealth.

These conditions, combined with the decentralization of social services meant that Black people’s economic situation and political cohesion started to look nearly identical to how it looked at the beginning of the civil right movement. However, six years of solid M4BL organizing and increase of overt anti-Black racism meant that institutions like the NAACP and the Urban League were open to a Black politics that centered cross class solidarity rather than respectability politics. Once again, the line between the elite assimilationist Black politics and more radical, often nationalist Black politics, was  blurred as it had been 50 years before. So while philanthropic communities still gave little to overtly political social groups [some of which had also become illegal with the re-authorization of the patriot act] the established Black groups they gave the majority of their money to were much more willing able to pass some of that money onto clandestine activities. With the elimination of the IRS and increase of allowances of political activity by religious groups passed through the Tax Revision Act of 2020, this funnel from rich philanthropist to clandestine organizing groups became even more prosperous.

Prominent contemporary scholar Jasmine Banks noted that “we often forget how absurd the old political and economic order was. It would be inaccurate to say that the progressive wealthy class acted against their monetary interests because of the moral evil of inequality. Rather, they worked towards their material interests by supporting an expanded safety net versus risking the inevitable attempts to address inequality through violence that had been the strategy of the disposed for centuries. The fact that the safety net led to the co-operative economy that would replace capitalism was not something they would have foreseen and, honestly, happened on a timeline that the crisis of liberal society did not allow them to think on.”

 

The Rise of the Political Speakeasies

 

Just as prohibition had given rise to organized crime so did the combination of laws prohibiting anti-government protesting but expanding the ability of religious institutions to do political work give rise to an underground political resistance movement. These speakeasies evolved from informal gatherings were people met in national parks, community swimming pools, YMCA’s or other places where people with little disposable income could gather and be social together. It just so happened that many of these gathering spaces were places where you could be relatively sure of little government surveillance to vent and complain about the government. As the economic crisis worsened low cost activities like reading groups, potlucks, and rent parties that Black and Latinx people would throw to raise money for their rent, became more and more common.

Organizers who managed to escape the purges would often find each other at these gatherings and form small little pods or affinity groups of closeted dissidents. Overtime, they began to have their own gatherings that were spread through word of mouth or embedded in geo-cashes by hackers. Participants would show up, dump their phones in cooper and lead lined box and hang out together. The vast majority of speakeasies were barely even politically but allowed for people to “thumb their noses” at the repressive government. In places like Miami, Houston and L.A. these speakeasies give rise to the Cabal movement of small dance clubs where people escaped the Puritanatical politics of the Ryan Regime through juking, grinding and twerking.

Most cities however, had two or three regular speakeasies, often differented by racial, class, and sexual expression of the participants, that were overtly political. While these identity differences often times caused conflicts, there was generally enough of a sense of a common enemy and pre-existing relationships across groups that they could work together. In larger urban cores like NYC, D.C, and Oakland, there were often dozens of such groups that were often coordinated through spokescouncils or steering committees. Out of fear of repression, these groups generally worked to find and support comrades who had been imprisoned or deported.

Inspired by political activity in Palestine during the first Intifada however, they began to use the emerging network of direct service provides, CSA’s and block parties to launch their “rolling black outs”  and other demonstrations of civil disobedience. The clandestine nature of their work and their prefigurative, anarchist influenced politics, meant that they had to developed new ways of self-governance across racial, gender and class differences that didn’t require 6 hour meetings which would have been suspicious.

Perhaps one of their most enduring developments was political hand dancing. Inspired by Black culture in D.C., Maryland and Virginia as well as the slaves who developed Capoeira in Brazil, political hand dancing allowed for communication of complex group decision to debated and accepted in real time without speaking. Originally developed as a warning system for police raids and as way to coordinate evacuating hideouts and delegating the destruction of materials on the fly, political hand dancing or the clapping game become a crucial tool for coordinating the silent Afrikan blocs during the general strikes.

By utilizing complexity theory, hip hop culture and musical theory the clapping game was used much like war drums of earlier eras yet the call and response, “remix” and beat dropping allowed for the “orders” to be decided by swarm intelligence. Affinity groups self-organized themselves into sensors, responders and facilitators. Each role has its sound: sensors clapped, responders drummed on whatever was available while facilitators hummed or sang well known songs to different rhythms.  Sensors role were to sense police presence and warn others of raids, kettling practices or general police movement. Responders developed responses to the sensors, often directing people to go to specific hideouts [each with their own beat] or to scatter. Facilitators had two roles one was to create noises that made it hard for the police to follow what was going one and two was communicate the meanings of the different codes that the responders were using.

The codes used were often determined by whatever songs were being played by speakeasy DJays or with new lyrics that often used inside jokes, movement slang and elaborate metaphors to refer to places that speakeasies met. The complex system allowed for groups to utilize swarm intelligence to evade the police even when leaders were arrested or not decided before had. Due to its relatively simple rules and communal nature, versions of the clap game become wide spread. The rules of the clap game were innovated on time and time again to be more effective. The decentralized network and self-referential nature of the code also made it secure as the police would have be incredible skilled at the game in addition to understanding the codes to counteract in real time.

While the clap game was the most famous innovation of self-governance it was hardly the only one. In many areas, CSA were coordinated into regional council for food distribution, women’s councils were created above ground to deal with street harassment and underground to provide clandestine reproductive health after the family values act was passed in 2020 severely limited reproductive choice. As the police force become more and more overtly political, the justice system lost more and more legitimacy. Eventually, speakeasies were created to do restorative circles for community violence ranging from theft, to domestic partner violence to arson.

In Detroit, the speakeasies spokes council partnered with the Malcolm X grassroots movement to create the Party of Revolution and Evolution [PRE] in 2021. In just three years, the PRE utilized a decentralized “movement DNA” system to create chapters around the country that began building larger networks of mutual aid and eventually taking over local governments across the country.

 

Aftermath

 

The beginning of the end of the Enlightened Retreat was the general strike of the defense industry in 2021. The strike was organized by collaboration between the East Coast chapters of the Black Lives Matter [BLM] Network who partnered with International Workers of the World [IWW] across the country. While most historians agree that the general strike only effected a handful of factories and did not significantly threaten the war it was a major symbolic victory. It showed the maturation of the fight for racial justice with one the first major multi-racial attacks against racialized capitalism and imperialism. It also gave an example of effective organizing to all the networks of mutual aid that had been building over the last 3 years.

The subsequent trial of the BLM leaders was meant to instill fear in any other dissidents. The leaders of the campaign were pulled from their houses at night and brutally detained. The police feared brutality against young white people would back fire against the state, especially considering that the IWW had their largest presence on elite college campuses that were doing Department of Defense research. Thus they rounded up the white IWW organizers gently and in secret. This tactic actually backfired as it showed blatant racism and racial disparities of policing as well as deep class differences.

The attorney general Rudolf Giuliani charged the organizers with treason, a tactic that was meant to scare off further organizing but seemed more like government overreach as the penalty for treason was death. The trial was the much watched television event of the century and rather than discouraged protests it inspired protest across the country.

 

 

The Unending March [An Alternative History of Trumpism]

*this is a piece of speculation political fiction with just a hint of satire written in the form of a Wikipedia article form the future. The purpose is imagine what all this craziness from the white house might be building to while envision how peace might come out of chaos and tragedy. We should not take Trump’s idiocy or bluster lightly. When the autocrat says he is coming for you believe him! I believe we can prevent violence in the long run if we build for transformation and autonomy now*

Overview:

 

The Unending March.

The Unending March, also called the Bloody March or the March of Blood, is a series of mass arrests and political purges carried out by the Federal Order of Police and the Proud Boy Brigades in January of 2019. It was part of Donald Trump’s attempt to consolidate power ahead of the Calexit, as the California Succession movement was then known. Despite its legacy as the beginning of political purge of the American left, most of the causalities were actually political moderates and rival members of the Republican Party and the armed forces. The most famous killing was the public execution of the 26th Secretary of the Department of Defense James Norman “Jim” Mattis by John Carver Johnson on January 30th during a press conference.

The Term “Unending March” comes from a speech by then Vice President Mike Pence who, at the March for American Patriots on January 20, 2019 said that “believers in America liberty most [sic] not allow social degenerates to rule our streets. In response to marches of feminist and queers we need an unending march of American patriots in every city of this great country.” After the bombings of the New York and Chicago subway systems later that afternoon were blamed on queer anarchist supposedly funded by ISIS, the coalition of white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups called the American People’s Army began making internet memes calling for mass violence against LGBTQ people, Arabs, Muslims and Black Lives Matter activists using the phrase “Unending March.”

The morning after the bombings President Donald Trump attempted to institute a nationwide martial law despite there being fewer than 10 casualties and the suspects being quickly identified and apprehended by local police departments. On January 22nd, Secretary Mattis said that he felt a nationwide martial law was completely uncalled for given the circumstances and recommended that the America people try to heal the divides that had been growing under the Trump administration through “understanding and respectful dialogue.” This in turn caused Donald Trump to publically call for Mattis’ resignation, though he later backtracked on that call after the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement against marshal law.

The newly appointed head of the Federal Order of Police, Edwardo Pena, was tasked by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “root out the enemy where ever he may be.” Edwardo Pena began working through his newly created office to coordinate the national police response through the Fraternal Orders of Police. Though this coordination would be later ruled unconstitutional, Edwardo was able to coordinate the arrest and detention of over 10,200 activist, organizers and journalist who had been flagged under the now infamous “Law and Order” program which monitored protestors. These mass arrests triggered wide spread protests which eventually became uprisings in 13 cities.

Memo’s leaked by Wiki Leaks in 2020 later revealed that the Uprisings had been planned by the Trump Administration who increased militarized policing through the so called “War on Drugs” while eliminating human services spending hoping that the increase in crime would justify even more authoritarian actions by the administration. Despite the chaos, many Democratic and moderate republican governors and mayors refused to call in the National Guard to stop the uprisings. This led to the American People’s Army to call for a mass mobilization across the country which eventually led to the paramilitary group attacking politicians and military leaders who were openly critical of the Trump regime.

Over 300 hundred movement leaders, politicians and military leader were killed in the ensuing chaos. Though it has never be substantiated, it is widely believed that members of Donald Trump’s administration provided the paramilitary forces with names and locations of individuals to target. A series of memos leaked to the British magazine The Guardian, later known as the Trump papers or red papers, did confirm that Donald Trump personally ordered Edwardo Pena to target activists with whom he had personal enmity towards including members of the group Black Lives Matter. These memos would later led to Donald Trump’s impeachment, the resignation of Mike Pence and the criminal trials of Jeff Sessions and Edwardo Pena.

Many scholars believe that the Unending March would have sparked a Second American Civil War had the World War 3 not started with the Invasion of Qatar 6 months later and following UN Syrian Resolution Crisis in the winter. The uprisings in American cities continued for many months including the D.C uprising in May of 2019 which forced the inauguration of President Paul Ryan to retreat to Camp David and resulted in the burning of the capital building by the newly established Maroon Society.

 

Calexit and Anti-Trumpism

 

Donald Trump was elected in the “Stolen Election of 2016” in which a confluence of the archaic Electoral College system, massive voter repression by the Republican Party, Russian political influence, an apathetic electorate and the first use of psychometrics in an American election. He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and was inaugurated under mass protests as the least popular America president in history. Though modern scholars generally classify the Donald Trump administration as a plutocratic kleptocracy it was widely seen as proto-fascist by its contemporaries. The rise of “Trumpism” as it was called, coincided with a rise in the American left, particularly in the anti-authoritarian and anti-racist tendencies as many Americans began to view liberalism and conservatism as two parts of the same problem that caused the years of political dysfunction that had preceded Trump.

The left leaning and most populous American state of California, now part of the Western American Maroon Society, voted in 2018 to have a special election on California succession. This vote came after a heated legal battle over California’s right to stop payments to the federal government which had threatened to bankrupt the country just a few months before. In addition, the two years of Trump’s administration saw months of mass mobilizations against his agenda. This period of America history would later be dubbed the “Era of Marches”, due to the 26 marches on Washington with over 6,000,000 people that the period saw.

Trump’s attacks on women, people of color, LGBTQ communities and immigrants also lead to an historical level of cross community political activity that was rare for America at the time. After the federal government shut down of 2018 over the debt ceiling and subsequent human service crisis, this period also saw the beginning of the autonomous community organizing that would later form the basis of the War World III era Maroon Societies. The growing strength of all of these movements had led to growing bi-partisan establishment call for Trump’s impeachment.

 

Military Opposition to Trumpism

 

Despite his nationalist rhetoric, Trump was unable to coalesce military support around his presidency. While sentient beings today can’t imagine a “just military,” at the time, the U.S. military had seen itself a force for peace and stability in the world in which America led alliance kept threats at bay. Therefore Donald Trump’s short-sighted isolationism and chaotic behavior did not endear him to the military. In addition, Trump was loathe to actually listen to current military leadership and tended to rely on retired and often disgraced military leaders for consul. Therefore, those in the military who might have otherwise been emendable to his “America first” isolationism were often at odds with him for more personal reasons. Even Marine Corps, which had supported Trump’s ill planned invasion of the Philippines in March of 2018 had lost faith in him by the beginning of his third year in office.

Rank and file soldiers however were consistently opposed to the Trump administration. Even before the heavily causalities of the invasion of Manila, the rank a file U.S military had protested the White House’s defunding of veteran services. With much of the logistical support roles in the military being privatized and the controversial and short lived 12-20 program that allowed mercenary soldiers to command U.S. troops, the rank and file soldier was often of low rank and lower pay. Without the typical veteran and active duty support programs and the skyrocketing price of food do the trade wars with Mexico and China, many scholars believe that the U.S. military was nearly mutinous by the end of his term. Fragging of mercenary officers’ quarters was wide spread during Operation Island Thunder and only increased after the Bay of Manila disaster.

 

Aftermath

 

The majority of Americans were unsure of which news sources and leaders to trust after the initial terrorist attacks in New York and Chicago. As the crisis deepened, most Americans lost trust in mainstream media completely and started to see the dangers of the continual war on terror. However, rather than spurring a movement against the surveillance state, the lack of trust actually allowed the Ryan administration to launch an attack against progressives and radicals that far eclipsed the McCarthy years. When the rumors of night raids and detention centers were first confirmed by the NYT and even fox news, most Americans were no longer heeding news organizations.

It wasn’t until the Teen Vogue’s coverage of the treason trials of the leadership of Black Lives Matter after they organized a symbolically successful strike of the defense industry in May of 2021 that most Americans began tuning back into national media sources. Before the Trump administration, Teen Vogue was not seen as a news agency but by the end of WW3 it was the most respected source of investigative journalism in the world.

Overall, shock of the unending march and resulting political turmoil was devastating to the American psyche. Many leftist organizers went underground and began organizing small affinity groups of mutual aid. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, in her 2025 book “The time of great unlearning” called this period the “enlightened retreat” after an anonymous memo written at the time called “the way out is in, together.” The shift from disruptive politics to mutual aid politics ended in the general strikes of 2022 and 2023 with the rise of Differential Autonomous Transformative [DAT] ecosystem organizing. By the time of the 2024 general strike, the American left [through decentralized and relatively young] was the largest political block in America. They successful ended WW3 with a general strike reminiscent of the communist in WW1.

Despite the shock and trauma of the nearly 10 year period, DAT ecosystems focus of healing and transformation lead to a marked increase in international cooperation and what would later be called “progressive globalization.” The Party of Revolution and Evolution [the PRE] would come to power in the U.S. in 2024 and stay in power until the dissolution of the United States, and all other nation-states, through “World without Border” U.R. resolution in 2044.

The World Without Border’s [WWB] resolution is considered by most to be the greatest achievement of the leaders of the enlightened retreat as it effectively ended wars between humans and ushered in the greatest era of peace time prosperity and cooperative and ecologically conscious economic development between the last war [the battle of Jerusalem] and Alpha Centari Liberation War.

 

In popular culture

 

The WWB was a result of decades of global activism lead by members of the North American resistance movement founded just after the Unending March. A monument to these heroes was constructed in 2050 in Maroon Society of Anacostia [formerly Washington D.C.].

The human species folk anthem, “Below and to the Left” is based on this period of Earth human history.

The 2100 Kwame Jones historical drama “Unapologetically Black,” chronicles the leaders of M4BL who were instrumental who came to leadership in response to the devastation of the Unending March.

The short lived T.V series “Queer as Fuck” follows several U.S, Mexican and Canadian teens throughout these tumultuous years.

In his trilogy “Race Traitors: The Death of Whiteness,” Mark Peace argues that the virulent racism of the Unending March was the catalyst for the “Race Traitor” movement of European ethnic groups re-creating their identities through the lens of progressive globalism.

Dear Beloved: Let Love Fuel The Fire This Time

inaugural-resistance-poster

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Forget to Breathe.

The misplaced shame, fear and greed of few rich and powerful people is threatening to suffocate us in an ocean of hatred. In this onslaught of executive orders and dog whistles we are drowning in the ghost of enslaved past, the violence of our imperial present and the premonitions of a bloody future. We are struggling to find the space to open our mouths without oil from the Presidential gas lighting we are receiving filling our bodies. Yet we must breathe. We must take the time to remember what we fight for. We must breath in the visions of a new world that rise from the shell of the old in times of resistance.  We must let the life giving oxygen of our desire for liberation fuel the fervor in our bellies. We must let the remembrance of the lives we desire to live fuel our opposition. We must let the air into our throats so that we can expel it in the fierce roars of resistance.

 

Dear Beloved,

 

Don’t Forget to Hold Each Other.

It is not our differences that separate us. It is merely the fact that we have been so long without being deeply held, without the feeling of bottomless belonging, that we have begun to think we do not deserve it. We have been told that our bodies, our native tongues, our culture, our wallets and our ways of loving have made us unworthy of being loved. In this lovelessness we have been separated from each other and are now being picked off in coordinated assaults. The Trump administration is not the love we deserve. Militarized policing is not the love we deserve. Low wages and raising rents is not the love we deserve. We deserve to be so deeply held that wounds of our past are allowed to heal. We deserved to be so deeply supported that no obstacle put in front of us can stop us from being fully powerful. A sense of deep belonging that calls us forth, together, to build the worlds we deserve is our birthright.

 

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Forget to Love.

Love trumps hate, not because positive feelings are more powerful than negative ones but because love is a meta emotion that reminds us not only of who we really are but of the power that we have when we stand together. Love reminds us that we deserve more than what this current society has to offer. Love reminds us that borders are unnecessary barriers between human communities. Love reminds us that policing can make us secure but only healthy communities and mutual encumbrance can keep us safe. Love liberates us to head towards the light and not merely stand against the darkness.

 

Dear Beloved,

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For What You Want.

We have been so thoroughly disinvested in and had oppression so thoroughly “occupy our breathing” that we have learned to ask merely for a reprieve from the onslaught. We have developed a reflex to ask for what we think our oppression will give. We have forgotten to ask for the things we need to thrive. Yet if we are going to take the streets in defense of our freedom then we must remember to ask for what we truly want. If want support then we must ask our neighbors to jump into the trenches and fight with us. If we want to be held then we must be willing to articulate the love we deserve. If we want to change the world then we must learn to demand the world we want, not merely the world we feel powerful enough to win. Collectively, we have the power to manifest with velocity. If we truly want liberation then we must demand and expect more than just an end to our bondage. We must articulate, demand and build the world that we deserve.

 

Dear Beloved,

Let Love Fuel the Fire This Time.

We have been so flooded with hate that we often find ourselves drowning in anger. Yet there are many types of anger. Some bind, some hold us back and many burn us down with the fire. Yet if we breathe, if we hold each other, if we remember to love yet do not shy away from the anger that arises from what we love being threatened we can spark the fire that finally sets us free. If we move from a place of love—for ourselves, for our community, for each other—then we can build engines of combustion that push us towards freedom. If we let love fuel this fire—instead of hatred, anger or shame—we can be warmed in the solidarity of our resistance. If we let love fuel the fire this time we can burn down this world we were not meant to survive and build many worlds of love, liberation and abundance in its place.

 

Dear Beloved,

Love Yourself Enough to Burn This Shit Down If You Need To.

It is only when we dare to assert that we deserve to be loved and that what we are being given is not love that we start to name and dismantle the systems that thwart our growth. It is only when we ask ourselves where it hurts and allow ourselves to sit with that pain, rather than listen to the stories of pain and greatness that are told to us or about us, that we develop a revolutionary drive for social transformation. We must realize that sometimes love looks like burning down the prison that holds us and divides us from one another. Sometimes love looks turn burning this shit down when it no longer serves you. Love will allow us to build a new world from the ashes of the old.

 

 

Shadowboxing My Pain

Our shadows are powerful things. Our shadows can guide our actions if we allow ourselves to chase them or we can reckon with them. Our shadows can be reminders of what we are afraid to feel and what we need to forgive ourselves for in order to stretch and grow. As my friend Rebecca taught me, our shadows are the things we hate about other people because they are the reflections of what we hate, fear or are most ashamed about in ourselves. Shadows are powerful things.

My entire political framework is based on convincing people to move past their shadow, show up as their greatest selves and walk with vision. For someone who uses organizing to push the existential dread of the ultimate meaningless of life out of my mind, this is a terrible political moment. It feels like all the world is in my shadow and our collective vision is clouded with shame, fear and pain. There is still work to be done. The work has not changed due to an election. Yet here we are, caught in a cycle of hurt and longing and fear; passing trauma back and forth.

There is a fear that has been creeping into my mind over the past few days. There is an anxiety at the base of my skull that feeds on my need for belonging and love turning itself into dread. It is a fear that strikes me so deeply at times that I manifest it into the world. It is a fear that before the oceans rise and food riots begin, before the camps and the cleansings, before the inaugurations become bloody affirmations of power we will tear each other apart while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

I see that I am not alone in these kinds of fears nor in my manifesting of the coming dystopia in my interpersonal relationships. As a dear friend recently put it, we are all expecting the repressions that are surely coming and living out our nightmares of them in real time. For some of us, for the marginalized and the oppressed, our fear is amplified by the real trauma caused by the pieces of the dystopia we have already lived through. It is amplified by the knowledge what though we might “have survived worse”– many of us didn’t. In this amplified state, we are so afraid of economic insecurity that we are fighting over money with our friends and family. We are so afraid of being alone, of our friends leaving, of being deporting or being killed that we are pushing them away before anyone can take them.

Some of us, I suspect, are just so hurt that we want to watch the world burn. Some of us are so afraid that we will turn to the devil to keep our communities alive. Some of us are merely shouting vitriol into the universe hoping it lands on someone who deserves it.  Some of us are retreating into our intellectual conclaves hoping to protect ourselves from the things we are afraid to feel. We are fortifying our echo chambers with shame hoping to create a world in which even if we are afraid and hurting we are not wrong…we are not to blame for this. Yet still, we are in pain. Our world is on fire. We are on fire and at some point, we have to admit that we are doing this to ourselves.

Of course we did not start the fire. The history of racism, sexism, genocide, classism and xenophobia are the tender. Our material insecurity and emotional pain is the fuel of course. The spark came from the rusted gears of empire turning as they have for centuries. No, we did not, as individuals, set this fire. Even the men in hoods merely lit the bonfire America built for them. Yet, this flame, this context, this system, and soon this rapist Klansman in chief is killing us. We have to recognize that regardless of who set the fire, we are burning and we are allowing ourselves to burn. We have been consumed by shadow, by what we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel. We are letting ourselves burn in hopes that those people in our shadow die first as we take a sick pleasure in the screams.

That is what we are doing when we point fingers, when we shame others. We are taking pleasure in the pain of those who are more at fault, more to blame, more ignorant, more privileged, more poor, more fucked, more of what we hate most about ourselves. It is a pleasure that corrupts. It is an addiction to cynicism. It is an emotional crutch that keeps us from feeling vulnerable. It leaves us feeling dirty and alone in our shame. As MLK stated, it is a guilty broken act that we double down on in an attempt to drown out our sense of shame. That is how addiction works. It is a pleasure dipped in the most profound pain. Yet it is the only pleasure we can see for ourselves. We are so blinded by hate, fear, hunger and loneliness that we have convinced ourselves that this pain is all there is. Now, I know our pain is not the same. In many cases it is not even similar in degree or kind, nor are our reactions to it. There are some people responsible for this pain and they must not escape justice. Yet we are passing bits of this pain around.  This pain is shared by all.

It is the pain of our hunger, abandonment, victimization, confusion, violence; it is the pain of vulnerability, the pain of hypervisibility and invisibilization, the pain of domination and forced submission, the pain of expropriation and exploitation; it is the pain of privilege and oppression. The causes of our pain are as dissimilar as their degree. Yet the existence of our pain is universal. It connects us. It ties us together in web of death. It is the black shroud of mourning for the joy of our highest selves, of better days, or another possible world, that even those in pickup trucks screaming racist slurs at their shadow wear. Yet it is not all that connects us and not all that can.

I am not writing this to convince anyone to love their enemies. I am not writing this as an attempt to unify with words rifts that have been caused by genocide, conquest, enslavement and deprivation. This is just me shadowboxing my pain. It is my plea to the universe. It is me asking that those you are able to close your eyes and remember that we deserve something better than this. Remember the joy we felt when we embodied our greatest selves. Remember that love can connect us and that light can push away the darkness. Remember the cracks in your soul that you have been told are weakness but are really how the light gets in…and shines out.

Share your light with me please. It’s cold and dark and I’m in pain and more pain is coming. I need your love. I need your light. I need to get rid of my shadow. I need you. Share your light please.

On Autonomy: Building Transformative Engines for [R]Evolution pt 3

*This Essay is the third in a series on my framework: Differential Autonomous Transformation.*

**The first essay is here and the second essay is here.**

“The revolutionary struggle against a colonial, racist, hetero-patriarchal capitalism which has for centuries separated us; arranged us in structures in opposition to each other; reduced our bodies to raw resources for abuse, exploitation and manipulation; and, in the words of Frantz Fanon, occupied our breathing, is today the struggle for a world—no, many worlds, where we might exist and thrive as each other’s beloved.

It is the struggle not only for a social universe that is meaningful and just, but lives that are inherently precious. It is the struggle against our elimination, our disappearance from each other.

Mothering is a primary front in this struggle, not as biological function, but as a social practice.”

Cynthia Dewi Oka

Mothering As Revolutionary Praxis

Revolutionary Mothering

“Autonomous projects are initiatives not supported or organized by the government (state) or some variant of monopoly capital (finance or corporate industrial or mercantile capital). These are initiatives that directly seek to create a democratic “economy of need” around organizing sustainable institutions that satisfy people’s basic needs around principles of social solidarity and participatory or direct democracy that intentionally put the needs of people before the needs of profit.” Kali Akuno “Until We Win”

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

“The extension of the commodity form to every corner of the social factory, which neo-liberalism has promoted, is an ideal limit for capitalist ideologues, but it is a project not only unrealizable but undesirable from the viewpoint of long-term reproduction of the capitalist system. Capitalist accumulation is structurally dependent on the free appropriation of immense quantities of labor and resources that must appear as externalities to the market, like the unpaid domestic work that women have provided, upon which employers have relied for the reproduction of the workforce. It is no accident, then, that long before the Wall Street meltdown, a variety of economists and social theorists warned that the marketization of all spheres of life is detrimental to the market’s well-functioning, for markets too, the argument goes, depend on the existence of non-monetary relations like confidence, trust, and gift giving.6 In brief, capital is learning about the virtues of the common good.

We must be very careful, then, not to craft the discourse on the commons in such a way as to allow a crisis-ridden capitalist class to revive itself, posturing, for instance, as the environmental guardian of the planet.” Silvia Federici in “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons”

Autonomy

su-casa

I once spent a year at a Catholic Worker on the South Side of Chicago. That year taught me more about radical social change than almost any other experience in my life. A Catholic Worker is a radical community based off of the work of Dorothy Day. Day was a political radical, rebel rousers and devout catholic who believed in radical solidarity with the poor and began organizing in the great depression. In Catholic Workers across the country, people come to live in community and work for free in service to poor people. At the Catholic worker I lived and worked in, we ran a house of hospitality for women fleeing domestic violence who were also undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

These women were often single mothers who escaped poverty or civil war in South and Latin America only to find abuse and neglect here in America. I learned a lot in my two years as a Catholic Worker. Perhaps one of my most influential lessons was how wrong my pre-conceived notions of a domestic violence survivor were. So often we hear stories of broken down women who are rendered powerless by years of abuse and manipulation. While trauma and cycles of abuse can and does render many domestic abuse victims unable to break themselves away from controlling partners and force them to be submissive that is not the only kind of survivor. Similarly, being submissive in one aspect of your life does not mean you are submissive in all others.

Many of the women I met were some the best self-advocates and aggressive defenders of their children I have ever met. These women eschewed the stereotypes of passive and submissive immigrant women. Though years of abuse and fear had taken a physiological toll on them and a lot of healing was necessary to help them start new lives, they we by no means helpless. In hearing their stories I was struck by how many of them stayed from depressingly practical reasons. They stayed with abusive men because the men, as terrible as they were, would not dare harm their children and they simply could not afford to leave.

Even for the women who desired to leave their partners for the sake of their children often stayed because homelessness could have been worse than the abuse. Despite the incalculable benefits of providing a healing supportive community, the most valuable thing we provided some families was simply a concrete next step. We provided them with an alternative that was not being cast out into the cold Chicago winter or being broken up by child and family services. We often could not provide the long term solutions that families needed yet time and time again our Catholic Worker provided a the first step that allowed families to begin a path towards self-determination.

The physiological toll of domestic abuse is in many ways unlike any other thing one can experience. However, the cycles of abuse that families live through and the remedies that people need to regain their agency are remarkably similar to many other types of human suffering. We will attempt to endure anything until we are presented with a concrete alternative that leads us to something that appears better. Even the strongest and most determined among us will often chose the devil we know over total uncertainty. The goal of revolutionaries is to present such an alternative to the abusive social relationships of white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy. Once such an alternative is presented then we must provide them with the love, support and community to get stable enough to create healthier, more supportive relationships and contexts.

In their book Black Against Empire Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr utilize Antonin Gramsci’s definition of revolutionary in regards to the Black Panther Party that resonates deeply with what I saw at the catholic worker. They state that “a revolutionary theory splits the world in two. It says that the people in power and the institutions they manage are the cause of oppression and injustice…Further, it asserts that nothing can be done from within the dominant social institutions to rectify the problem–that the dominant social institutions must be overthrown.”  I believe that as their best, the differential politics of today’s social movements contain such revolutionary ideas. Like a social worker counseling a survivor of domestic violence, a revolutionary must work with the people to connect their plights to long string of abuses and show how the abuses will not stop until we leave our abusers home, or the confines of this current system.

They go on to say that “a movement is revolutionary politically to the extent that it poses an effective challenge…It must seize the political imagination and offer credible proposals to address the grievances of large segments of the population…But when a movement succeeds in this task, the dominant political coalition usually defeats the challenge through the twin means of repression and concession.” In other words, it is not enough to name the problem and show that the system must be overthrown. For something to be politically revolutionary it must challenge the status quo for legitimacy and somehow survive killings and jailings and reforms meant to weaken coalitions. We have to show that our vision can provide for the human needs of our base better than the status quo. We also have to build coalitions and transformative relationships with our allies who that we can survive cosmetic changes to the system.

cycle-of-abuse

Here we see the state mirror the same tactics as any other abusive relationship. There are periods of tensions building, an act of violence and repression followed by a reconciliation where the abuser promises not do it again and changes their behaviour for a time. We can see this as clearly in Nixon’s violent repression of anti-war and Black liberations movements followed by concessions on the draft, a de escalation of the war and the extension of affirmative action as Trump recent “walk backs” of his previous statements and the corresponding calls from his opponents to give him a chance. Yet we know by now that reconciliation is always followed by a brief calm before launching back into more mounting tension and violence.

I believe that social movements have a lot to learn from the differential human technologies that women supporting women fleeing domestic violence have mastered. People need to be loved and supported into self-determination. The best way to do this is in a supportive, tight night community removed from your abuser. In these communities we can heal and build personal strength and individual and communal autonomy. People also have to agitated, educated and supported in moving past a personal narrative of victimization into one of being co-creators of their own experience.

Yet this is much more easily said than done. Autonomy is a hard thing to create and even harder to maintain. While the Catholic Worker in Chicago did and continues to do phenomenal work it was also plagued with profound problems. Issues of race, class, gender, age, ability, status and language all created obstacles that were difficult to manage. There were power dynamics between the families and the workers that were problematic and slowed families gaining autonomy. There were profound differences of both personality and politics that almost destroyed the community several times. It also took resources both in terms of money but also in terms of countless hours of work that it was impossible to track much less compensate.

This essay, like the essays before, seek to illustrate these challenges and the solutions that folks in movements are finding. It is my hope that it expands of the previous essays to allow people to see how we might survive the next four years without the support [and for many against the will] of federal and local governments. How might we engage with our terrible, oppressive political system from a place that is not dependent on its resources, values or organizing logic nor under its control and supervision.

What is Autonomy?

When I speak of autonomy I mean it as a verb, noun and an adjective all at once. It is a praxis, a state of being, and a quality of social movement. It is both an ends and a means. Autonomy is something to be built and practiced. It is the ability to achieve resiliency by balancing mutual aid and encumbrance with self-reliance. Autonomy is self-sufficiency that recognizes the self as one part of a communal experience. The individual cannot be seen as separate from the community nor the community from the individuals that comprise it. Autonomy is the durability and sustainability of the I/We-inseparable-Ubuntu.

To be autonomous in the DAT sense of the term, is to find strength, sustenance and freedom in a network of mutually beneficial relationships in which our individual strength is nurtured by and fortifies our collective power. Unlike a capitalistic version of autonomy, DAT sees solitude and isolation as vulnerabilities and liabilities. Unlike a patriarchal/hierarchical view of autonomy, if your support system is overly reliant on you to direct them it will be unable to survive your own human failings.

If we continue to build our societies as a collection of pyramid schemes stacked on top of each other, we will continue to have crisis every time the tops of the pyramids make mistakes or fall into the inevitable potholes of human failings. Likewise, a castle surrounded by a moat is going to be less capable of handling life’s challenges than a network of villages spread across a diverse terrain. A centralized system where all information and resources are directed at a core group or person is often unable to deal with crisis as well as a deeply connected decentralized network based on shared values where information and resources move in many directions. Of course, decentralization has its own challenges. Decentralization is easier talked about than done. It calls on us to take full ownership of our lives, experiences and communities in ways that can be challenging and at times onerous.

For this reason, many of us would rather follow in many aspects of their lives than take responsibility for our lives. We often feel like if we take responsibility for our lives than we have no one else to blame if we fail. Because of this, when we do take responsibility we tend to want to have control over the situation to ensure that we do not fail at our task. Unfortunately control is not only dangerous to attempt but also practically impossible. The only thing we can truly control in life are our responses to it. The more we invest in the illusion of control as leaders or followers, the more likely we are to suffer from unintended consequences. As the saying goes: “man plans, god laughs.” There is so much in this world that is not only beyond our control but also outside our view. If we are invested in control we will be unprepared to deal with challenges just beyond the horizon.

I see this in my own organizing in DC all the time. I invite people to work on a project based on a vision I have. When I attempt to have people add to that vision or reframe it they are hesitant. Because it is my vision I become a defacto leader in it. This is often true even when I invite other people into leadership. We are so unfamiliar with co-ownership that we almost alway revert back to a singular owner of vision/leader. As I lead I then feel responsible for my vision being completed. Eventually this means that I want control over the process. In attempting to control the process I lessen other people’s feeling of ownership. It then becomes a positive feedback loop of control and disinvestment. Even as I try to interrupt this loop I realize that both leaders and followers have to be willing to do the work of disrupting the control loop. Autonomy is a two way street. You can offer and support people to step into a co-creator position but they also have to willing and able to accept that role and responsibility.

I believe that instead of control based organization, the kind of autonomy that many movements are trying to build now is an autonomy aligned with the theories of emergent strategies.  It is an autonomy based in the belief that communities that work together with intention and shared values can manifest abundance for themselves and their neighbors. Even with our communities as disinvested and disjointed as they are it is still possible for us to come together and meet our individual needs with collective support. We all must rise to challenge of understanding we are responsible for our lives even if we cannot control our circumstances. It is on us to build a world capable of meeting our needs. No one else can do it for us and we cannot do it alone.

Autonomy means accepting the mantle of co-creators of our world.

What Does Building Autonomy Look Like?

tragedy_revisited_script_100620_01

Building DAT autonomy is building a movement commons. Rather than seeing the revolution as a thing perpetuated by one strong organization that gets the masses to seize the system, DAT autonomy views each person as a historical actor. DAT sees the work of organizations as bringing resources into a commons space that can be used by all who share their broad vision or points of unity. For instance, the commons of M4BL includes energy of that direct action stirs up. When BYP 100 shuts down Homan Square, individuals around the country get activated and want to join the movement. BLM DC can then tap into these energy by sharing the news of the action and including a “this is what you can do in DC to support the movement.”

The goal of DAT autonomy is to name this dynamic and increase the amount and variety of resources that are held in common while also increasing accessibility to the commons. What if artist allowed their stencils and graphics to used by anyone under creative commons? What if one group decided its role was to create an online curriculum for people who are eager to get involved to start educating themselves? We would we a larger pool of activated folks for other groups to organize. Similarly one group could offer healing to the ecosystem of organizers so that the work is sustainable. One group might launch social events that keep the spirit up while also building relationships between different organizers and acculturating new organizers into the politics and revolutionary social relationships of the movement. I think most local movements could be supported by a logistics team who helps coordinate food, locations, equipment and volunteers for events.

If we can bring all of these different activities and roles together we can free each collective or organization from belief that they have to do everything. We can also open up the movement to variety of different roles and move away from the current hierarchy of privileging activism and organizing over support roles, fundraising, culture building, childcare, logistics, education, healing etc. It would also bring all the work that makes “movement moments” possible into the foreground. This would in turn help in removing the mystique of organizing that causes some people to defer to visible leaders and set them on pedestal forgetting that they are all too human.

“This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an

opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master

builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

Homely for Oscar Romero

 

“We are prophets of a future not our own.” Our movements spaces can become whatever we need them to be. Eventually these ecosystems can be developed into autonomous spaces which are polycentric spaces in which individuals come together for the common good in resistance to Empire. Autonomous spaces are places where the whole life of a freedom fighter is supported outside of any reliance on and or supervision by the state. It could be networks of cooperates that provide food, clothing and communally owned and accountable financing and capital. It could be religious communities that support the independent investigation of the truth and communal support, transformative and spiritual growth. It could be housing through community land trusts not private property. It could be social clubs, sports leagues, WOW tournaments etc in which consent, affirmation, nurturance and empowerment are embedded with politics of anti-racism, feminism, and class consciousness. By sticking all of this together we can create a new liberated culture.

Such a culture is crucial to the use of a differential action by oppressed people. It helps foster what Chela Sandoval calls “oppositional consciousness.” Oppositional conscious is the revolutionary outlook needed to use things like the liberal strategy tactically which is to say, as a means and not an end. Put another way, liberated culture allows for organizing from a vantage point outside of state centered capitalist ideology, values and paradigms so that we can strategically demolish them while dismantling the structures and interests they serve. Autonomous spaces are needed to foster increasingly strategic differential movement.

Where Do We See Autonomy Being Practiced?

The current struggle of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota is perhaps the clearest example we have today of DAT autonomy. Comprising over 4,000 water protectors, elders, allies, lawyers, spiritual guides and future national leaders, it is verifiable modern maroon society. It is supported by the offerings and mutual aid of nations who have come together for this common cause. It has a kitchen, spiritual center, living quarters and even a free school where first nation children can learn their history, culture, spirituality and skills for resistance. Here seeds of oppositional consciousness are planted that can sustain a multi-generational struggle for national sovereignty. People are drawn to the spiritual energy of the place and once there dive right into becoming co-leaders of the space. It is a generative space in which people can bring their whole selves and in so doing, create a different, more powerful way to be in the world. It is an autonomous space in which one of the most significant transformative campaigns of my lifetime is being waged. The actions of BLM Atlanta, who shut down a train bringing supplies to standing rock, shows how autonomy spaces can generate the multi-frontal campaigns that were talked about in the essay on differential politics.

The sort of autonomy and solidarity built at Standing Rock is also being built in the Black only spaces that the M4BL is building, though diffused through many different spaces. Spaces like BLM DC’s Black Joy Sundays are a solution to disintegration of Black communities that was a direct result of racial integration. It is our response to neoliberal assaults on our autonomy by the Reagan and Clinton administrations.  As Ruby Sales mentioned in her interview on “On Being”, an entire generation of Black youth feels abandoned by our elders has we were sent into a white world that did not love us. Though we should be wary of “Jim Crow nostalgia” we should also be real about how unprepared whole swaths of Black America was to face the brunt of U.S imperialism at home without the parallel power structures that segregated society allowed to thrive in Black communities.

Key Human Technologies for Revolutionary Autonomy

Building, maintaining and expanding this kind of autonomy is incredibly difficult. Fortunately different movements have developed human technologies that support this kind of revolutionary autonomy.

The first such political technology I want to explore was developed by BLM organizer Elle Hearns called “collaborative solidarity.” It says that in order to have powerful coalitions we must invest in the leadership capabilities of the most marginalized while decolonizing our own praxis. Often times groups trying to be helpful to under-resourced communities end up reproducing a paternalistic narrative in which the community is treated like children. Paternalism is both an internalized belief of the oppressor and also emerging power dynamic that arises when one side has the skills, resources and relationships needed for sustained strategic action. To have truly collective broad based movements, the most marginalized communities need to be invested in for the long term. Then they can create their own vision for the future and strategies to achieve in collaboration with other communities. Then and only then, can we build a new world with the space for many worlds.

Another human technology we will need is that of radical identity reformation. We see this in the popular creations of Black Girl Magic.  Black women are reframing their identity not through the lens of struggle but through the lens of the lessons and skills that resistance has taught them as well as their achievements against the odds of Empire. So often, Blackness is defined as the opposite of whiteness. Whiteness is defined as being worthy of dominating and Blackness as worthy of being dominated. We have to realize that we cannot take either identity as it stands into liberation. However, this does not mean that we can simply overlook our socially constructed identities any more than we can overthrow capitalism by pretending money doesn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that the Black culture, which is in many ways a product of Black resistance, should be disregarded or not valued. Rather, we have to be willing to allow our very identities to be transformed in service to the work.

That personal transformation, like all positive transformations, happens when we are supported by a community. Personal autonomy does not being removed from others but merely changing our relations to ourselves in order to transform our relationship with the world.  To transform, we have to tell ourselves new, empowered stories of ourselves and exist in a community that accepts, nurtures and supports that empowered narrative. Personal autonomy is achieved through a praxis or a habit of balancing vulnerability, service, and self-care with boundary setting and standing in our own power. Your personal freedom comes when your community is free but you don’t have to allow people the freedom to walk all over you. Thus you can learn to see your personal desires as existing at their greatest in their communal form without becoming a martyr for a communal experience. This is how we can become the strong people Ella Baker talked about, the ones who don’t need strong leaders.

In his illuminating essay “The Dragon and Hydra” Black intellectual and political Prisoner Russel Maroon Shoatz provides useful historical context for radical identity formation in resistance to domination.

“Consequently, from the 17th century until the abolition of slavery in the U.S., there were also Maroon communities in areas stretching from the pine barrens of New Jersey, down the east coast to Florida, and in the Appalachian mountains and later to migrate to Mexico’s northern border regions. The best known (but little studied) ones were those that occupied the dismal swamp of Virginia and North Carolina and the Seminoles of Florida, which contrary to popular belief have never been an Amerindian tribe, but instead – from their beginnings – an ethnic group made up of Africans and Amerindians who came together to form the ethnicity: just like the Boni Maroons were formed in Suriname.

All of this replicated the decentralized organizing forms of the Maroons in Suriname and Jamaica. And although their political histories fall short of them winning and maintaining the degree of autonomy achieved in Suriname or Jamaica, the descendents of the Seminoles in Mexico and the U.S. still fiercely guard their communities against the Mexican and U.S. governments: in Florida they’re recognized as a semi-autonomous tribe, and the Africans (Seminole negroes) in Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico also distinguish themselves from their neighbors – while calling Blacks in the U.S. ‘state negroes.’ According to New Afrikan nationalist cadre from the U.S. who have worked around them, the African Seminoles never considered themselves citizens of the U.S. like African-Americans do.”

I know it is a controversial proposal, but I firmly believe that we must use this human technology of radical identity formation to not only reframe our existing identities but to create new ones based on shared revolutionary values and shared struggle. As Cathy Cohen argued in her seminal essay “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: the Radical Potential of Queer Politics” there is a deep value in creating new identities based on the simultaneous affirmation of marginalized ways of moving through the world and vision for better future. Dr. Cohen suggest queer politics encompass not only same gender loving people but also low income people, kinks, asexuals and other people whose consensual sexual expression and enjoyment is curtailed or denigrated in society. They should be included in a vision for a world of sexual and economic liberation. I believe that we need a similar radical identity formation for people interested in co-creating a world capable of meeting all human needs where all of life can focus on thriving rather than just surviving.

I believe that this could either be done through expanding the term Black to include anyone invested in co-creating a world rooted in the Black Radical tradition or the creation of an entirely new maroon identity. Some first nation organizing standing in solidarity with standing rock have even suggested an identity based not only being a first nation person but also folks who “think and act indigenously.” That is to say, those who support community autonomy and rooted in the knowledge that we cannot own the land, in fact that the land owns us. I believe that such radical identity formation forged in the fires of resistance while being rooted in the values of the world we want is a crucial component to building and sustaining a revolutionary engine of the size and scale we need.

This brings us to the next central technology of interpersonal autonomy: a radically democratic version of consent where consent is seen as the active co-creation of experiences whether they be sexual, spiritual, emotional, economic, political or all of the above. Our thought is constructive of our experience in the sense that we interpret our experience based on our disposition, emotions and ideology. One person’s tragedy to wallow in is another person’s point of activation. Further, our lived experiences are based on our actions and how we conceptualize the actions of others. We have all had relationships in which we felt there were unspoken and unfair expectation being forced upon us. Sometimes those expectations are societal and sometimes we are projecting them onto our interactions because of where we are mentally and emotionally. Either way it affects how we engage with each other and thus how people react to us. We already co-create all of our experiences yet it tends to be subconscious and non-consensual.

Whether it is our work schedules or our sexual experiences we are often not given proactive choices and only allowed to choose our reaction. This is why consent is important. However rather than merely allowing people to make informed decisions, radical consent as co-creation is working together the transform the options available to us so that there are multiple ways for individuals to get their needs met together. This radical version of consent as co-creation is the lubrications that allows the revolutionary engine to run without grinding itself down and the shock absorbers that allow the revolution to cover rough terrain. This level of radical consent involves a practice of transformative love utilized by a differential consciousness so that one is aware of the intersection of all parties needs in their spiritual and political contexts.

It must be said that a whole lot of healing and self reflection is necessary for this kind of radical consent to be practiced in a society based off of domination. We have to heal from the deep often childhood wounds that instill in us a need for validation, an unhelpful yearning for certainty or other deep seated fears and unmet needs. It takes years of self reflection to name and accept that hurts that compel our destructive actions. It takes a autonomous community committed to healing to work and free from at least some of the instability and alienation of mainstream society to work through this pain and hold us as we stumble. Only then can we stop passing our hurt back and forth as we organize.

Radical co-consent means developing a habit of stating our needs, naming the tensions in our relationships and making requests of each other directly, clearly and respectfully. It means hearing these requests when they are offered. Rather making yes or no decisions about them it means asking clarifying questions and offering ways that you can meet those request while also getting your needs met or clearly stating that we cannot meet those requests. Too often we ask for solidarity in terms of a specific ask whether it is in terms money or turn out or a role in an action. While this can be effective, it can also lead to their only being one strategy or groups feeling like solidarity means following blindly and putting your campaigns on hold. With this radical consent we can allow for flexibility in how we support each other in our differential political tactics and swarm our common enemies. It also helps us navigate the minefield of emotions, egos, and silence due to shame and hurt that often disrupt collective action, derail organizations and ruin relationships.

Related to this, the last human technology needed for Autonomy is caucusing. Caucusing is a process in which people gather around shared identities of race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation etc. They are microcosms of autonomous spaces where people have the ability to look critically at how their identities shape their experience and analyze the complexity and fluidity of those identities. Here we can examine the structures that perpetuate the fictions identity and brainstorm how we can transform them.The Black only spaces that BLM is known for like Black Joy Sunday is an example of caucusing.

These types of autonomous spaces are key to building the cross-class, genderfull and multi-racial coalitions we need to build in order to overthrow capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and state domination. So often we see Black people and other marginalized groups rush into coalition with white people or other privileged identities and still end up being dependent on the whims of ours oppressors who, due to systemic privilege, have the free time, resources, professional credentials and connections to dominate the coalitions. Without internal solidarity, Black people often feel that holding their white allies accountable puts them at risk of losing the skills and resources that they bring. Just like how without the separatist aspects of the second wave feminist movement [itself derived from the feminism of Black women within the Black Freedom movement] many women would not have had the self-actualized autonomy to demand respect and dignity in their coalitions with men.

Similarly in order to be invested in transforming the context in which we live, people who have systemic privilege need spaces to de-colonize their investment in systems of oppression and develop a positive vision of how they will be better off after collective liberation. White people must be able to imagine a world without whiteness worth fighting for. Men must have a taste of a world without patriarchal expectations that often cause them to transfer the violence of capitalism and white supremacy to women and children. This allows us to build unity that is not merely forced homogeneity. It allows us to build a shared democratic vision worth sacrificing and dying for.

Caucuses and single identity autonomous spaces that celebrate the diversity, complexity, fluidity and intersectionality of every identity are therefore crucial to building coalitions with poly-centric intersectional leadership in which our differences can be leveraged as strengths. Yet it is crucial that we never lose sight of the goal of collective liberation and the beloved community lest we end up reifying the same social constructs and self-limited binary identities [black/white or male/female etc.] that oppress us. We must find the delicate balance of acknowledging the impact of our socially constructed identities without reinforcing them.

How Can We Challenge the System and Survive Repression and Concession?

black-against-empire

 

It seems to me that the goal of our autonomous spaces is two fold. The first to support our revolutions and provide a launching place for campaigns beyond the confines of our oppression. The second is provide people with a viable alternative to status quo. We have provide a space where we can show people that leaving capitalism does mean that they will be homeless and starving. We have to create a world in which the hurt that people feel in the outside world does not exist. At the same time we have to provide them with alternative ways of getting their material needs met as well as emotional needs like belonging, safety and self esteem.

I believe that we are going to see America society go through a series of crisis over the next four years that the Trump administration will not be close to equipped to handle. We already know that climate change is going to mix with our crumbling infrastructure and growing migrant crisis to wreck havoc on our society. In addition, a Trump administration is likely to underfund the very non-profits and civil society organizations who would traditionally deal with these problems. While this is a prospect as terrifying as mass immigration raids and increased hate crimes it is also a potential opportunity if we rise to meet the challenge.

The organizations that generally provide services to those in need tend to disempower communities and make them dependent on the state or wealthy people for their welfare. As these organizations are defunded and unsupported by the state under a Trump administration there are many possible consequences. I think two are crucial to examine here. One is that some of these organizations will be more interested in doing empowering work not tied to service delivery but rather to advancing justice. While there are legal limits to how far these non-profits can go we also see examples in attempts like Service to Justice or the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to move organizations closer towards advancing justice and being community run. Perhaps more usefully though less likely, we might see grassroots funded and embattled organizations like labor unions step up to support programs that meet their members needs like we saw during the strike funds and food programs during labor’s heyday.

The second and infinitely more promising option is the rise of survival programs, social programing and alternative education spaces modeled after groups like the Black Panthers or the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket. Networks like Black Lives Matter and Standing Up for Racial Justice could develop collaborations to fund and run programs in communities most likely to be hit by federal disinvestment to ensure access to healthcare, food and education. We say a little of this happen with the Occupy Movement and in particular Occupy Sandy. We have seen it with BLM chapters doing aid work in Baton Rouge. We also see it done masterfully at the four camps in Standing Rock. Eventually these networks could launch alternative economic systems modelled after the Malcolm X Grassroots Movements Operation Cooperative Jackson.

In most cities across America, bits of autonomous spaces and survival programs exist in isolation. DAT suggests that we begin to connect all of these different spheres into several holistic communities. For DAT, autonomous space is what it looks like if we merged our folk schools and movement retreats with our worker cooperates, urban farms, spiritual centers and intentional communities. We must provide the next step for people abused by the system. We must let them know another way of living is possible. We must protect these communities like maroons protected their mountainous villages of runaways [hide, flight or fight]. We must bring other activist, artist and social change agents into them to allow them to grow. They should be spaces in which we can raise families and retire or be taken care of when we are sick.

We can build the kinds of communities where restorative justice is possible. We can build spaces where a culture of critique is supported. We must build spaces where the deprivations of capitalist accumulation and horrors of oppression do not rob us our ability to work together in mutual aid. Within these autonomous spaces a liberated culture can emerge in which individuals can be transformed. Here we can be our full authentic selves and have our personal failings countered by the strengths of others. In essence, in these autonomous spaces a revolution can happen that can birth the organizers of the revolution we need.

We need to invest in the leadership and personal growth of the most marginalized members of our community so that they are equipped to engage in the radical co-creation of our new world as equal partners. We need to move beyond trying to build mass organizations that can run these programs and towards autonomous ecosystems where several different collectives work towards meeting different communal needs. We need to build a movement commons where goods, funds and services are thrown into a large pot open to all and replenished by all.  We need build movement ecosystems based on shared values and identifying with the world we want so that we can avoid co-optation and the dissolution of our coalition through small concessions that neither end human suffering nor change the fundamentally unequal power dynamics that underlie the system.

Of course we must also have a plan for surviving repression. Both the Tulsa Massacre and MOVE bombing in Philadelphia show us the potential fate of such autonomous spaces. The current crackdowns of the Standing Rock Occupation are another. Isolated autonomous spaces are appealing but isolation makes repression easier. That’s why I think we should never lose sight of the need to gain power, outlast repression and constantly rebuild in order to create a broad base woven into the fabric of civil society. However, it would be disingenuous to say that I have a theory of how we survive repression. The lack of a clear framework to survive the repression that we know is coming, and in many ways has arrived, is a serious gap in this emerging framework. Yet I do think that Bloom and Martin do make several conclusions in their book Black Against Empire that might prove instructive.

The Black Panthers reached the height of their popularity during the time that they were undergoing the most repression. There is an extent to which oppression breeds resistance. However, not all types of resistance breeds support from broader social bases. You resistance has to be contextualized to what your base of support sees as credible not merely what is morally, ethically or otherwise justifiable. Bloom and Martin put the success of the Panthers in using the right tactics at the right time. They highlighted an existing contradiction between the land of equal opportunity and the land where poor people were getting sent off to die or killed by police at home. Armed resistance was easily supported by a broad social base of the respectable Black moderates and anti-war whites.

Bloom and Martin continue by saying “The nixon administration responded by attempting to repress the radicals, on the one hand, and making broad concessions to moderates, on the other. Nixon was the one who rolled back the draft, wound down the war, and advanced affirmative action. In the 1970’s, black electoral representation and government hiring ballooned. As a result of these changes, the Panthers had difficulty sustaining broad support among blacks and antiwar activist…The hard-core right wing was not the main threat to the Party. Rather concessions to blacks and opponents of the war reestablished the credibility of liberalism to key constituents.”

I think that this analysis could be useful in our thinking. If we are to look at Standing Rock, one can see that the more police repression they face, the more people are interested in going out there. Yet, what will happen if the Obama administration moves the pipe-line off Native Land? Has there been sufficient ground work to highlight other social contradictions in addition to Native Sovereignty and by whom? It becomes an environmental justice issue will you still see BLM chapter sending support? Will it feel as urgent a call as indigenous rights?

At this point, my preliminary framework suggests that the key to surviving repression is highlighting the key political, ethical and even spiritual contradictions at the heart of an issue and building engines that are centered on multiple contradictions with multiple tactics that illuminate them at a time. BLM’s State Sanctioned Violence lens must work to highlight mass incarceration, police brutality, gendered violence and economic injustice simultaneous. Multiple tactics should be used to highlight the contradictions underlying each issue.

At the same time our ally work must continue. We must continue to agitate, educate and support white allies to fight for a world that is not simply “more just” but outside the confine of the current system. We have develop a shared vision that justify the multi-front campaigns that were discussed earlier. In this way, the concessions Bloom and Martin suggest are needed to “re-establish the credibility of liberalism to key constituencies” are much more massive than the cosmetic shifts in power that we are used to getting.

With autonomous spaces, we have the potential of creating a shared vision at the intersection of so many movements that no capitalist state solution could possibly satisfy the people fervor for change. This to me, is the radical possibility of DAT autonomy and why we should treat it as much as an end in and of itself as means to liberation. In short, our counter hegemony [alternative status quo] must use bits of the old world as protection until it is strong enough to rival aspects of the state. We will gain legitimacy not only by challenging the legitimacy of Empire in dramatic moments but also by providing for our broader communities in times of crises. Like the Brazilian slaves who created Capoeira, we might need to make ourselves ungovernable while hiding in public and preparing for the final escalation in tactics which may or may not mean self-defense.

“Perhaps the kind of home we need today is mobile, multiple, and underground.

Perhaps we need to become unavailable for state scrutiny so that we can experiment with reorganizing our social relations in revolutionary ways.

Against the rallying cry of freedom, I propose to embed revolutionary struggle in a politics of necessity and responsibility, a politics that enhances our encumbrance upon each other while rejecting the extension of our dependence on state and capital.”  — Cynthia Dewi Oka “Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis.”

Building Transformation Engines for [R]Evolution pt 2: Differential Politics

*check out the first essay in the series here*

Differential Politics

“We seek a world in which there is room for many worlds.”

Sub commander Marcos

Zapatista Army of Liberation (EXLN), Mexico

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Words used by Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia.

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, – a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.”

W.E.B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folks

“In attempting to repossess identity and culture, U.S. feminists of color during the 1960’s and 1970’s, U.S. punks during the early 1980s, peoples of color and queers during the 1990’s developed survival skills into technologies for re-organizing peoples and their collective dreams for empowerment into images-turned-facts…

Dominated populaces realize their subjection to power (that people are the words the social order speaks). The radical form of cognitive mapping that differential consciousness allows develops such knowledge into a method by which the limits of the social order can be spoken, named, and made translucent: the body passes through and is transformed.”

Chela Sandoval Methodology of the Oppressed.

“Who or what is the collective subject of history? Is it the nation? Civilization? Class? Is it Hegel’s Cunning actor, Reason? Each of these categories of comprehension, while determing present phenomena as meaningful, comes to us full of residues of the past, containing the sedimented history of utopian dreams and cultural blind spots, political struggles and power effects. Historically inhereted concepts form the collective consciousness of actors who, in turn, create history. Paradoxically, even when collective actors proclaim themselves the standard bearers for universal history–indeed, especially when they make this avant-gardist claim–they establish their identity in contrast to others, to outsiders. This brings our inquiry back to the thought with which the essay, “Hegel and Haiti,” came to a close. Is it possible to reimagine universal history out of bounds of exclusionary conceptual frames? Can we humans, in a kind of reversal of Hegel, refuse to see ourselves as history’s instrument, our particular actions meaningful only when subsumed within some overarching concept as it historically unfolds–even when that concept is human freedom? Can collective subjectivity be imagined as inclusive as humanity itself? Is there a way to universal history today?” Susan Buck-Morss “Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History.”

2000px-de_template

Differential: To be Differential is to utilize political, emotional and spiritual discernment for revolution.

Perhaps now that state power seems so unreachable to progressives in the wake of the election of Trump they will finally be open to leftist non-state centric solutions to our problems. Likewise, I am excited by the number of people who are trying to understand why people voted the way they did on both sides. Not only can this election unveil what America has always been but it can also force us to look deeply and analytically at each other’s social position to understand why we do what we do. In this exercise of trying to understand each other’s social location I am hopeful that many of us will learn to see past the veil of ideology being spewed by mainstream society. This essay, like all of the ones in this series, hopes to provide fodder for these “what do we do next” conversations. I hope it can exist as a generative launching point for collective discussion and action.

Like the Zapatistas, I believe that the way forward is “below and to the left.” That is to say that we should organize communal power structures outside the confines of the state along anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist lenses. We need to have control over our resources and communities not just control over the liberal political structures that legislate the businesses that control the resources. I believe there are many ways to do that. Groups like the next system project outline possible alternatives to way we currently organize society.

This essay, like most of the rest of the essays in this series, is more concerned with the how than the what. How do we move from where we are to where we want to go? How do we evaluate one possible vision from another? How to we work together to manifest that vision without ending up at each other’s throats? How do we overcome the social constructs of race, class, nationality, gender and ability to build a shared vision of the world capable of holding the complexity of human experiences, contexts, desires and needs?

There are many analyses of the way forward with complementary visions of the future from Marx-Leninism to Revolutionary Nationalism to Ecofeminism. This essay suggests a way to use those analyses in tandem to create complicated maps of the terrains of power that show us multiple possible ways forward. In addition to creating maps, we must also develop a political consciousness capable of seeing our place in the terrain of power rather than accepting the place we are told we live in. This is especially true at a moment when we are all being asked to give Trump “an open mind.”  Armed with these maps and consciousness we can head toward the world we want not merely the worker revolution or nation our analysis says is the goal. Most importantly, with differential politics we are able to see every individual as a historical actor and envision worlds that can encompass many different visions for liberation, joy and freedom.

The book Radical Dharma contains a poetic description how our analysis created from a single view [Black people or the working class] often hem us into thinking we are fighting different battles or worse, that only one side has any real skin in the game. It is about the cops policing of Black bodies but it could be extended to include the policing of bodies in many ways including gender, sexuality, ability, respectability, class etc.

“Whose Liberation?

We’re in a moment in which the attention of our nation is rightfully turned to the policing of Black and brown bodies. From above, it looks like just Black and brown folks are being policed, and, while you may feel bad, at least you are free.

The policing we are witnessing is expressing itself through the State. The police force is the state institution carrying out a specific mandate. The mandate expresses an energetic need of the construct we inhabit.

The mandate is to control Black bodies.

The need is to have the constant specter of the other.

When the other exists, it strengthens your need to belong.

Your belonging is necessary for compliance.

Your compliance maintains the system.

You are policed, too.

You are policed by your need for belonging.

Your need for belonging requires control of the other.

…Or at least the illusion of it.

You are policed through the control of my body.

You are policed, too.

Once you are aware of how you are being policed, you can begin the process of self-liberating, from the position of realizing the mutuality of our liberation rather than suffering under the delusion that you are doing something for me. There is intimacy in that realization. And because Dharma is ultimately about accepting what is, it can undermine the need for control that keeps you invested in the policing of my body, thus freeing yours.”

This multi-focal approach, this attempt to view the system from seemingly opposing perspectives at once is, to me, at the core of differential modes of organizing. Not only does it allow for polycentric analysis of policing but also connects the visceral and emotional world that policing penetrates that is often left out of our analysis. The differential modes of resisting domination is a concept I first encountered outlined by Chela Sandoval in “The Methodologies of the Oppressed.” Differential movement, in this political sense, is to be able understand one’s own and one’s opponent[s] social location deeply while also being able to read power in complex ways and to use this reading to subvert, hide from, retreat from or disrupt domination and oppressive power thrusts.

A boxer, if they are any good, is hyper aware of their own body and its ability to move, dodge and fight. In order to win, a boxer must be able to read their opponent’s body and capacity with equal precision. You have to see not only the jab but the hook that the jab is trying to set you up for. The bobbing and weaving of boxer as well as the combos and breathing techniques, is all differential movement.

At it’s best differential movement exist in non-binary terms, when there are multiple combatants. This is something I always loved about the X-men comics. Sure they had superpowers and [sometimes] cool costumes. Yet what made them great was their teamwork, Cyclop’s detailed action plans and their opposition research. They had to put together all of their powers in order to exploit the weakness of their opponents. The had to fight opponents who shifted and changed and adapted while learning to see the positive side of their most volatile and unhealed teammates [i.e. Wolverine’s berserker rage or Magik’s fractured soul]

Differential movement is like the improvising of a musician. Improvising only works within the context of boundaries. What separates improvising from random notes is an understanding of the underlying structure of notes, rhythms, harmonies and melodies that are possible. One might decide to play off key or without discernable rhythm but it is the decision that makes its improvisation and not chaos. Improvising is better when you understand the science of music and the art of the instrument you are playing. This is why most Jazz musicians are classically trained. In order to, as Miles Davis said, “play what’s not there” you have be able to see what is there and know how slide beauty and quirks into the gaps.

Whether the task is fighting or making music, differential movement takes both feeling and study and practice to be effective. Differential movement is not purely intuitive even if it is driven by our visceral experience. Perfect pitch, a musical ear, naturally deft hand eye coordination are all helpful but are basically meaningless without knowing how to read music, knowing how to play an instrument or heading to the gym.

All of this is true for differential political movement. Tools like dialectical materialism, intersectionality, social reproduction feminism, and de-colonial lens all help organizers read power and determine their own social location. Ideologies like Marxism, Revolutionary Nationalism, or Anarchism help provide models of the terrain of power in which you are struggling. Boycotts, rallies, speeches, agit-prop distribution, shut-downs, strikes, campaigns, twitter storms, canvassing, bird-dogging, insurrections, people’s war and sabotage are the strategies and tactics that constitute political movement. They are the notes and combos that organizers must learn to employ effectively.

Perhaps most controversially, spiritual, social and emotional techniques like meditation, yoga, conflict resolution, thought-stopping, restorative processes, emotional intelligence, generative somatics, visioning, manifesting, healing praxi etc are all skills [human technologies] crucial to the interpersonal aspects of differential political movement. They allow us to ask us where it hurts and then map those answers to the terrains of power that political tendencies create. If our politics is geared towards ending human suffering then it should include the emotional and spiritual technologies we have developed to name, process and soothe human suffering. If our politics is not geared towards ending human suffering then it is not geared towards liberation.

To be differential is to not be dogmatic. It is not to follow a map blindly. One does not organize to seize the means of production just because we read it in a book. Just like one should not try to jump across a canyon because it looks like a small ditch on our map. We should not organize our political strategy over what the polls say.  We have to learn to use our eyes and use maps only as extra information to aid us in our journey. In a negotiation you cannot just assume that a white male capitalist is going to react a certain way based on an ideological understanding of the world, you have to read their body language, have empathy [though not necessarily sympathy] with their situation in order to decide how, which and when to press demands.

By understanding our social position in such a complicated way, we all have the tools to create a compelling narrative of personal and communal freedom. It opens up the possibility of a multi-front campaign against domination in which we are experts in our chosen field of battle. Rather than have those with “privilege” stand as “allies” in other people’s fights, differential politics allows people to understand where their fight is.

This is the essence of what is meant by political discernment. When we tie this discernment and analysis to our visceral unease with our way of life we are prepared to change our circumstances. When we connect a polycentric political analysis to a practice of asking ourselves where it hurts a seed of oppositional consciousness is created. Oppositional consciousness is knowing that there are more ways forward than society wants you to believe. It is knowing that Trump is still dangerous and autocratic regardless of the conciliatory tone he and the establishment are presenting. It is realizing that however real white supremacist institutions might make its effects, race is a social construct whose rules need only be noted, not abided by. Oppositional consciousness is knowing that bullshit is bullshit. It’s being able to see that what we are being feed is lies and recognize the truth of our own power. Hip Hop and Black Folk religion are two great examples of human technologies for transmitting the oppositional consciousness that arises in Black autonomous spaces.

hip_hop_6_dogs

Hip Hop is culture based on radical self-expression and living against the grain of anti-Blackness and urban deprivation. Black folk religion is a set of human technologies that allowed enslaved people to build community and celebrate their collective humanity and individual worth in the most soul crushing of circumstances. At their most authentic, they help Black people choose freedom over slavery and radical hope over crushing despair and helped Black people survive a system we were not meant to survive. Hip Hop and Black Folk religion were many Black communities’ way of playing the notes the system denied us but that we knew we needed to survive. Of course, no technology is perfect. Like both Jazz and Vodun,  Hip Hop and Black folk religion have been co-opted, revised and repackaged to suit purposes antithetical to their creation. This is one reason that Black communities constantly create new genres [human technologies] for spiritual, cultural and political expression.

This is one reason why culture is an important terrain of struggle. Culture holds us down and makes our organizing spaces sustainable. Culture also reminds of who we are and our history. Rather than disdain the joy that folks get from a Beyonce video, radicals do and should understand the importance of Black popular music to oppositional consciousness. We should push our artist to be more radical and systemic in their analysis and support artists whose radical content makes them marginal. We should also consider what cultural strategies we could use to tell polycentric stories about the world we live and and the world we want.  What human technologies can we create to navigate power in the age of Trumpsim and the internet? What will be the caperoria of our Black abolitionist movement?

Oppositional consciousness is crucial to sustained differential politics in the coming era when neo-liberalism will sell prison to you as affordable housing and a jobs program. Differential political movement is developing a strategy of reading corporate and state invasions into our communities and assessing the power dynamics that make them work in order to disrupt them with strategies from previous eras of social movements used as tactics. For instance, when Wal-Mart tries to enter your community you can either fight to unionize them as a labor organizer might have in the 70’s or take a strategy from a more liberal play book and try to get community members elected to the zoning board. This choice is based on which tactic better suits your community’s needs, abilities and long term goals rather than a dogmatic theory of change from an earlier era. The liberal approach might not bring liberation but it might be an easier way to keep the homes where you plot liberation.

Central to differential politics is the understanding that all systems analysis is fiction, a good story and useful map. Marx-Leninism views the oppression of Black people in one vein and revolutionary nationalism in another. Neither of them actually explain the full range of Black political, social, emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual experiences. Like all stories the questions is not whether they are true or false but whether they are accurate and useful. Just like Newton’s Laws of Physics, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics are all accurate at specific scales for specific questions and uses, so too are Marxism, Nationalism, Anarchism and yes even identity politics. Differential political movement is the discernment to know when to use which tool and how, never confusing accuracy for truth.

cleveland-police-shoot-boy

One great example of effective differential movement is Black Lives Matter Cleveland’s Campaign against the District Attorney Mcginty. After the DA refused to prosecute the cops who murdered Tamir Rice, it would have been easy to simply run another candidate. Yet, BLM: Cleveland understood the limits of electoral organizing and the limits of getting anyone, even a movement leader, in office. Thus, instead of backing a better political candidate, launching their own campaign or trying to build a campaign to reform government they simply ensured that the local democratic party did not endorse any candidate. This meant that candidates had to go directly to communities in order to raise the funds and awareness to be viable. This made politicians accountable to Black communities without wasting energy trying to influence a fatally flawed system. The base that was built to pressure a non-endorsement can now be utilized towards more revolutionary goals. This is a brilliant example of differential political movement.

In order to be effective, differential political actions must be made from a place beyond domineering ideology in order to not reproduce oppressive social relationships. Take over your zoning board if you need to but don’t confuse proximity to power or bureaucracy with autonomous power. As mentioned in previous essays to be beyond oppressive ideologies is not to be beyond ideology itself necessarily. Rather, it means to be able to read the ideological context within which one is organizing and set one’s strategies to oppose the naturalization of oppression and domination. It also means to move without the blindness of narrow sectarian ideologies.

By using tendencies as models for terrains of power, we can use them like overlays to create more complex maps of our social location. These new maps allow us to see the different intersections of structures of oppression. With this intersectional power mapping we can strike where we are strongest and empire is weakest. This intersectional power mapping is what allows for the Palestinian Student Movement to stand in solidarity with M4BL Black August actions against mass incarceration. An anti-imperialist lens makes the international-personal connection while a marx-leninist allows you to hit the Imperialist in the pocket book where it hurts.

In our planning sessions and debrief as well as in the streets we also create a new communal identity of solidarity that can, at times, transcend the limiting social constructs we live in.

Lastly, differential political movement is a skill that is learned over time. Like most skills it takes practical experimentation and the fruits of scientific observation to master. Once base level differential action has been mastered and studied aspects of it can be written down and general principles can be learned in a book. Yet, there is no preparation like experience doing it. Fortunately, most oppressed people naturally learn differential political skills. Anything from code-switching, to learning to navigate welfare offices to learning to avoid the police is differential movement.  Organizers must recognize, name, praise and nurture the preexisting differential strategies in the communities we organize.

Likewise, we have to remember that scientific observation has very concrete limits and the context within which we experiment is constantly changing anyways. Thus it generally better to create space for people to recognize their pre-existing differential skills. Then we can set people up to learn as much of the general principles as possible and to support them in gaining the practical experience necessary for mastery. This is where Autonomous spaces are useful. In an autonomous space, away from the hegemony or mainstream views, it is easy to analyze the terrain of power. Once you have removed yourself from the mist of capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal ideology and its values it is easier to decide how to combat it.

What does this mean practically speaking?

flags

“What if every time that the consciousness of individuals surpassed the confines of present constellations of power in perceiving the concrete meaning of freedom, this were valued as a moment, however transitory, of the realization of absolute spirit? What other silences would need to be broken? What undisciplined stories would be told?” Susan Buck-Morss “Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History”

At its most basic level, differential politics allows us to move past sectarian divides that no longer serve us. It also allows us to be more strategic by providing us with a better sense of the terrain and our place in it.  At its highest level differential politics, with its oppositional consciousness and intersectional power mapping, allows us to swarm our enemies with expertise. Rather than have allies off on the sidelines in support roles or trying to lead on someone else’s front line it allows for a total war against domination in which our tactics come from the human technologies we have learned to navigate empire.

Earlier in the essay I asked what will be the Capoeira of our generation. To me, this is not a rhetorical question. What human technology will we create to bring tribes together, away from state supervision and practice revolution? How might we attack the supply chain of domination from where we currently stand instead of constantly rushing to other people’s communities from call to action to call to action? What would happened if we held onto the “absolute spirit” of freedom and visioned the polycentric world of the future with that lens?  I think these are questions that need answers and I think differential politics can go a long way in doing that.

In today’s movements, I think you see differential politics helping people make critical connections between movements. At standing rock you see it connect environmentalism, anti-racism and national sovereignty into a powerful movement for autonomy that is sparking fires in many communities across the globe. We have chance to come together in these moments strike a powerful collective blow to empire.

What might be the result if low income Black and Brown communities shut down the trains carrying pipeline equipment to protest the invasion of Native land AND the fact that trains run through their already polluted neighborhood? What if middle class Black homeowners owners launched lawsuits against the financial backers of the pipeline who happened to also be same banks that redlined them into “less desirable” neighborhoods and higher interests rates? What if people who were raced white threw massive cultural festivals geared towards creating a new culture based neither in whiteness nor in cultural appropriation that simultaneously raised awareness of the cost of assimilation and funds for standing rock? What if a contingent of south asians held teach-ins on eastern religions to decolonize the practices of white burners who appropriate their culture will raising funds fo Standing Rock? What if all of this work was considered historically important and we stopped fetishizing [or demonizing] those with the resources, time and inclination to chase calls to action?

What if we coordinated events with same guiding questions, spiritual grounding and sense of liberated culture? What if worked to build a shared polycentric understanding of our shared human skin in this fight? Might those who have been stolen from their lands or whose nations have been so destroyed by imperialism that we left to come struggle against extermination and assimilation  connect with those whose lands have been stolen to assert a way forward that heals the wounds of our ancestors and suggests a new way to live liberated right now. At it’s core, differential political action is about this kind of radical possibilities in context.

The next essay in the series will dive more into the what: autonomous spaces. As always, please give me any feedback, pushback or questions you have. Feel free to write a response! I think building a culture of critique and rigorous engage with political issues is necessary to develop differential politics.