Dear Beloved: Let Love Fuel The Fire This Time

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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

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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“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.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Breathe.

Take a deep breath in. Let the air fill your stomach. Hold for a count of 4.  Exhale.

Shit is real. Donald Trump was just elected President of the United States. You are currently feeling all the feels. Allow yourself to feel it. Ask yourself, where does it hurt? Even if you are only experiencing anger right now, ask yourself what lies under the anger. Is it possible you are only feeling anger so that don’t feel deeper, more vulnerable emotions?

What are you afraid to let yourself feel?

Sit with that.

Ask yourself where it hurts.

What do you need? A nap, food, water, comfort, intimacy?

Go and get that. Take a drink. Cuddle with a friend. Call your mother to process. Take a twerk break. Eat food and come back to this. Take care of your needs.

Now that you are little more centered, let’s talk about what happens next. The election last night didn’t change everything. Nothing that exists today wasn’t around, in some form, last week or last month. America did not lose its mind. Racism did not “win.” Social forces of insecurity, deprivation, separation, anger, fear, resentment, disinvestment and hurt coalesced into a 30 minute up or down vote.

This is not to say that you are overreaching. This is only to say that we are not in the beginning, or end, of anything. We are in the middle of a long process of American politics which has always been fraught with anger, racism, sexism, violence and hurt [not to mention genocide and slavery]. Yet this development is serious and there are changes coming ahead that unless we intervene will be scary, dangerous, violent and hurtful.

Moving forward we know that we will have to hold each other. Regardless of what Trump does during his administration we know there will likely be some crisis in the coming months and years. Climate change, mass migration, infrastructure failure, and rising inequality were already potential humanitarian crises we were ill prepared for. America is already involved in 5 wars abroad. Unions are under attack and labor has been the red-headed step child of the Democratic Party since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

Trump and his white nationalist supporters will make all of these things worse unless we come together and stop them. Our communities will be further divested from. Our water is already poisoned and our infrastructure will only get worse. Perhaps the most often unspoken part of the Presidential election is the narrative shift that occurs. Obama’s hope and change narrative was fundamentally different than Bush’s. Obama’s America was lauded as a post-racial society in which America was an “unfinished pyramid,” not perfect but getting closer every year. He re-defined what it meant to be American and what American values were. Some of this was window dressing, but some of it was substantial.

Reagan similarly changed our vision for American life.  His invention of myths like the welfare queen and the need to escalate the war on drugs retooled Lyndon Johnson’s view of government as a social worker to that of a part time cop – part time venture capitalist. Instead of building towards a great society by addressing inequity, we needed to attack those that were “living off the system” [as if anyone wasn’t in some way]. This is not to suggest Johnson’s great society was not fraught with issues. Rather it goes to show you that the bully pulpit extends into our view for the role of government and vision for America. Ultimately, it bleeds into what we expect from each other and ourselves.

I think Alexis Pauline Gumbs states it best in the book she co-edited Revolutionary Mothering.

“I was born in 1982 in the middle of the first term of a president who won by demonizing “welfare queens,” in the global context of “population control,” a story that says poor women and women of color should not give birth. A story with a happy ending for capitalism: we do not exist. The queer thing is that we were born; our young and/or deviant and /or brown and/or broke and/or single mamas did the wrong thing. Therefore we exist: a population out of control, a story interrupted.”

The economic conditions of de-industrialization made Black and poor working families disposable and would have under any president. Yet, Reagan weaponized white supremacy to infuse neo-liberalism into the American ideology. Reagan used the myth of the welfare queen to dismantle systems that mostly benefited poor white people. His narrative made their hurt invisible, in some cases even to themselves, or turned that hurt to anger and misdirected it to inner-city drug users. This is a real danger of Trump. We’ve seen inklings of this with Reagan’s and Clinton’s welfare reform but nothing of Trump’s vitriol and violence.

The point here is that some of us have been here before. Some of our communities have known that America hated us for generations. Some of us are just now realizing what America has already been. What happens next will be a cycle of crises, weaponization of hate and furthering of the crises. Marginalized people will be scape-goated in schemes to dismantle what is left of the safety net. Middle class white families will face the same sort of economic insecurity that has been a fact of life for Black and brown communities for generations. Those marginalized communities will face new levels of disinvestment that resemble the crack infused Reagan years.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here?

We need to ask ourselves where it hurts and support each other. There will be no bailout or reinvestment plan for our communities in the next four years. There will be no politicians willing and empowered to halt the mass deportations. There will be no fireside chats and WPA programs to deal with the Trump recession. Like the great depression, Black communities who have been under attack are more psychologically equipped to deal with this lack of stability and persecution.Not because we’re superhuman, we’ve just been here before and some of us have developed certain skills and practices to survive.

One of the reasons why Black people seem to be less distraught by Trump is because to us he is clearly our comb-over chicken coming home to roost. Many white people aren’t ready to acknowledge the truths that Black people have been long prepared for. Yet psychological preparation doesn’t obscure the fact that Black people and other marginalized groups will face the brunt of this crises. Not being so surprised doesn’t mean that as Black people we also don’t need to ask each other where it hurts and ask what are we afraid to feel.

It will be a rough couple of months. The communities Trump decides to target will be devastated and that devastation will be felt by all of us. We need to build autonomous communities that can provide the stability and safety to counter the insecurity Trump will engender and try to use for his own purposes. We need networks of support where we can ask ourselves where it hurts and communally manifest political, economic, spiritual and emotional balms. As the Zapitista’s say, we need a movement from “below and to the left.” Building these autonomous communities will take time and hard work, but they will be how we survive this.

This is not to say that we don’t also need to build alternative political parties and social movements. Yet, as leftist Latin American movements or Greece’s Syriza show us, without communal autonomy we will be ill equipped to survive austerity whether it is imposed by the IMF or a result of Trump’s terrible policies. We have to invest in our communities in order to build the resiliency they will need to survive the next four years. The main political aspects of what I think we should do to move forward are outlined in my essay series Differential Autonomous Transformation: Building Engines of [R]evolution.

There will be a time for serious organizing in the next few weeks. Yet many of us are shocked and that shock needs to wear off before we organize. We need to begin to support each other and give ourselves time to feel the magnitude of the moment. We need to allow ourselves to feel that which we are afraid to feel. We need to ask each other where it hurts.

Here are things you can do today to begin moving forward:

  1. Don’t shame people for how they voted or for choosing not to vote.  Voter shaming has no place in transformative politics. No matter how bad some behavior might be, the internalization of shame never leads to sustained positive change. Shame can make someone change tactics but it rarely changes hearts and minds for sustained action. Shamed people either become reactionary or internalize the shame to become apathetic or feel powerless over time. No one demographic group caused this outcome. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, the limits of liberal democracy and a culture of lovelessness are the problem. People who voted for Trump, Clinton or Stein still are complicit in those systems regardless of their vote. This outcome is not a reflection of who we fundamentally are as individuals but rather our system of government and our social relationships. It’s not us, but it is our shit to clean up.
  2. Take care of yourself. Like truth telling, organizing is serious business, and only truth telling and organizing will allow us to combat Trump’s agenda. We need to engage in a communal marathon, not a series of individual sprints. Self-care has to be the center of any organizing strategy. Tired, hangry, unhealed people make for reactionary, short sighted and unstrategic organizers. Create a list of things you do to destress, decompress and cultivate joy. Create a list of “Signs That I Am Not Taking Good Care Of Myself” and use it as a reminder that self care is a practice, not a one off thing.  Put that list somewhere you will see it often. Use it as a reminder to check in with yourself. Remember to love up on yourself.
  3. Reach out to your network. Create a list of all the people you love, all the people whom you are afraid for, all the people you turn to in times of deep pain. Reach out to the people on the list. Tell them you love them, ask them where it hurts, asks what support they need and tell them how they can support you. Be explicit about being willing to support your network and specific about the support you need. These personal networks will be crucial in the coming years. They will be the central hub in our autonomous networks.
  4. Don’t let Trump create a new normal. Carve out space in your home, or room, to create an “Altar To The World I Want.” Place symbols of what you are determined to keep under a Trump presidency on the altar. This is not a place to continually mourn, rather it’s a living visual reminder of why we fight. As the weeks go by, add things to it that symbolize things that come under threat or that disappear (proof of what we had). It’s important that we don’t buy into all the people telling us it will be okay, especially since they are the same people who said this would never happen. It’s also important to have a north star, to remember the world we want as we build it.
  5. Support the organizations that are already building community autonomy. Many of these organizations planned for Trump winning. Most of their plans would be the same under a Clinton Presidency, and many of them will be developing plans to tell folks what is coming. All of them will need more resources, members and volunteers. You can donate to Black Lives Matter DC here.
  6. When you are ready, centered and have a strategy get to organizing!

Building Transformative Engines For Revolution : Differential Autonomous Transformation

“I think that DAT is how left organizers, activists and leaders are re-inventing human possibility in real time and creating different ways to navigate terrains of power in order to end human suffering.”

This essay is the first in a series of essays I have been working on over the past year. I hope to finally be releasing them over the next month! Please let me know what you think!

Sparks vs. Combustion

An old SNCC organizer once asked me if I knew the difference between spark and combustion. He said the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] has learned how to create big sparks, starts fires and get attention through direct action and protest. Yet, in order to get free, you need combustion. Combustion is what happens when a spark is tied to an engine. Engines allow you move things and consciously shape change rather than just demand it. Our protest and shut downs were creating fires all over the world, but where was the engine?

It’s engines that drive [r]evolutions.

This essay is my attempt to outline how communities facing domination by outside forces are creating their own engines of revolution. It is not an assertion of how to overcome oppression or the best way to fight it. Rather it hopes to present a generative framework to better understand how we are effectively resisting oppression right now. My hope is that it can be critiqued, rephrased and collectively turned into a platform from which stronger movements can articulate more powerful, liberated and sustainable ways to be fully human.

It is my belief that a revolution is simply a change in who has power over aspects of a given system.  With the advent of global warming, the increasing complexity of society and simplicity of our public discourse, the crises of capitalism and global unease with our way of life; a revolution in our lifetime seems inevitable. The world is in constant motion and there are several engines of change from political machines to industrial supply lines that are changing the face of our planet. Yet when workers, community leaders and organizers talk about the revolution we generally mean a struggle to end domination of one group over others. In order to ensure the coming revolution is our revolution we need our own engines of change. We need a new political analysis and strategic outlook for building movements.

The old way simply isn’t working. Our beat-up unions, civic associations and nonprofits can’t travel the roads that haven’t been repaired since the last infrastructure bill or have been washed out by the latest “storm of the century.” They can barely even ensure that all of us, Black, Latinx, Queer, Trans*, poor, differently abled, femme, youth, etc. are in the same car. Likewise, identity politics without an engine for power building and social transformation has a tendency to lead towards reinforcing a self-limiting victim narrative and framework. We can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that victims do not shape change, rather they are shaped by it.

We need a politics that allows us to recognize each new ploy by corporations to make money off our backs, each time the state overreaches and each time we reproduce the same forms of patriarchal dominance and pyramids of power that we are trying to escape. At the same time, our politics must be able to develop a posture and strategy of opposition tailored to repeal them. We need a politics that realizes that regardless of how we might feel about the state in the abstract or our personal experience of America society, the history of gender, class and racial oppression in this state shows that it cannot be reformed to justice, nor the basis of its society intentionally changed by protests alone.

The politics we need is one that is able to stretch and bend itself to fight in different terrains. From the workplace, to media and cultural commodification, to the psychological and pharmaceutical invasions of the market to the bedroom and the politics of sex. Such guerrilla opposition to capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and state domination seems the only way to defeat the array of forces lined up against us. This is especially true given that the arrangements of corporate and elite interests [post-modern capitalistic hegemony] have moved from pushing their agenda in state capitals and big cities or bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO), in favor of a decentralized global totality and near omnipresence.

In this opposition it is my belief that we will destroy the normative, ableist and limited view of humanity that these ideologies and systems of oppression foster and thrive on. In so doing, we will create multiple new ways of being which can not only reduce human suffering but actually bring safety, stability, a sense of deep belonging and joy, love and happiness into all of humanity’s everyday lives.

The Engines of Oppression

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This framework starts with a basic premise: there are a lot of things in life that are shitty but they don’t have to be.

Our stress levels, the violence we face from each other and the police, our struggle to pay the rent, our difficulty in finding, sustaining and expressing love, and degradation of our environment are not normal or inevitable parts of how humans act and live. These problems and many others are results of engines designed by other people to structure our lives. They are the result of choices we make and choices people with more power, influence and resources make for us. These engines of oppression have divided and conquered and spiritually starved us into this current world.

First, our communities were divided and conquered by explorers, conquistadors, slave traders, and inquisitions. Indigenous spiritual practices, social and human technologies that allows us to make sense of the world and each other, have been ripped apart. Then, years of state and capitalistic domination by “enlightened” imperialist missionaries and “visionaries” have divided our inner life and forced us to deny the existence of much of our pain to cope with the human tragedy of the world they have created.

We retreat into our minds, ivory tower universities or digital landscapes in order to ignore our emotional, physical and deeply spiritual pain. By spirituality I simply mean that sense of being connected to something bigger than ourselves that gives a sense of deep meaning, perspective and wholeness [God, the Universe, the Planet, the Movement, Ancestors, Each Other etc.]. With the perception that the mind and body can be disconnected, we retreat into our bodies [or from our bodies], and dive deep into the escape of drugs, instant surface level gratification of pornography or the numbness of emotional eating; all to escape the deep emotional pain and the gnawing intuition that there must be a better way to live. We have been conditioned to accept and seek out sensation and basic stimulation, without the vulnerability and discernment of actually feeling things deeply in our mind AND body.

At the same time that we have been separated by the unity of mind and body, our bodies are being destroyed by exploitation and expropriation. The material costs of capitalist and state domination whether through brutal labor conditions, the deprivations of both absolute poverty and relative inequality through underdevelopment and sheer ecological destruction are almost impossible to quantify. The pain of this current system is simultaneously material and psycho-spiritual. Its attacks on one realm of human existence reinforces its invasion into another.

Now that we all feel that this way of life is untenable, that we have made our world unlivable, the same indigenous practices that were ripped apart have been pieced back together, devoid of any kernel of resistance, and sold back to us. Yoga and meditation is now a tool to sustain us as good employees, mild mannered subjects of capitalism. This is much the same way that Christianity, a religion that was formulated in large part by Africans, was later repackaged to enslaved Africans to keep them subservient. Likewise, in the realm of science and medicine, the same doulas and midwives that western science scoffed at as “unscientific” are now sometimes only available to wealthy white families.

The very communities that had medicine women and midwives now face a whole host of systemic health problems including high rates of infant mortality. Family farms stretching back generations are sold to agro-businesses whose industrial mono-cropping now threaten our food supply. Now NGO’s try to teach third world farmers the same poly-cropping, nomadic and other ancient agricultural practices that their ancestors were forced to abandon by colonial governments.

Thanks to centuries of colonialism, divide and conquer strategies and spiritual and economic disinvestment, we now have few communities whole enough to organize the type and magnitude of the movements we need to get free.

Civil society has broken down across America. The natural meeting places, outside of state surveillance or market forces, where we could get needs met have either been destroyed, outlawed or co-opted. Even our religious life has moved from patriarchal, but local and attentive to community needs, to mega churches which preach a self-serving prosperity gospel. Block associations,  while often being insular and problematic but at least provided a space for the neighborhood to discuss issues of importance, are now few and far between. There are few places in which whole lives [familial, political, economic, spiritual] can be lived and there is a shared sense of being in “it” together. Now our lives are fragmented into several spheres where we choose different communities from a market of options. Community organizers now have to rise to the challenge of building the communities they seek to organize in the first place. Without strong empowered communities with a shared sense of togetherness we cannot resist the schemes of those with plans for our lives.

Our current daily struggles are in large part due to the fact that power, influence and resources are not equally distributed amongst everyone. They are hoarded by the wealthy and powerful who create or invest in stories like “America being a meritocracy” together with systems of values and worth to make it seem like the wealthy deserve to have what they have hoarded. Systems of belief like racism, sexism, elitism and anti-rural sentiments were old prejudices that those in power developed when they needed to make it seem normal, right and just that the ruling class has more than those “less deserving” others.

Race, class and gender constructions are often tied to stereotypes and social value judgments that seek to divide those of us at the margins against each other rather than against those with wealth and power, and make it seem like we deserve the stress, violence and insecurity we face. The belief that we deserve these things, and so do other people, then goes on to influence the choices that we make. The stress of all of this forces us to lose the unity of mind, body and spirit and individual and communal experiences of life. We have normalized our own self-destructive coping mechanism and accept their isolating, ahistorical, decontextualized profit driven solutions and value systems.

We have to realize that the cures and solutions that the wealthy and powerful give us to solve the problem we face is the same disease they caused and profit from.

The latest, and perhaps most nefarious, disease packaged as a solution we are being sold is called neo-liberalism, the belief that the market can solve all problems. Neo-liberalism, the latest form of capitalism, is not only changing how our governments function but changing the very notions of what everyday people think government is for. Neo-liberalism is by no means the major engine of human suffering operating today but it does bring the interconnectedness of those engines into sharp relief.

Gone are the days where the common citizens believed the lie that our government is for the people and geared towards the pursuit of happiness. Now the common person seems to see the government’s job is to protect business. Now the undefined but all important “market” is seen as a natural social phenomenon that the government must respect and tend to rather than seen as something the government creates by deciding what is and isn’t legal.

People start to become bits of human capital to be invested in or bundled and traded as toxic assets for profit rather than interconnected autonomous beings to support and let thrive in communities. The purpose of life implicitly argued for in our founding documents, that one should pursue happiness and liberty, while often times overlooked or perversely inverted in the history of slavery and genocide, are in danger of being permanently replaced by the imperative to generate economic value in the minds of ordinary citizens. In this whitewashing we even forget that being free to pursue happiness is something we should fight for. Everyday people cede love, belonging and the ability to build communities that meet their needs as a terrain of struggle. Us radicals are often not far behind.

Our liberal democracy, with its focus on individual rights and disregard for power structures and history, was never going to bring liberation to people who were oppressed on the basis of a specifically constructed group identity [race, class, gender etc]. However, liberal democracy does provide a potential platform from which more liberating radically democratic projects could be launched. As Barbara Ransby once cautioned me, “it can always get worse.” Those of us who have for a long time known that the United States was an empire and the largest purveyor of violence in the world should not take solace in Marcus Garvey’s words “when all else fails to organize people, conditions will.”

While this is undoubtedly true, there is ample evidence to suggest the current engines of change are bringing about conditions that will not organize people to greater freedom and liberation. Far from it. Neo-liberal Global Capitalism— a form of imperialism fueled as it is by white supremacy and patriarchy—threatens to bring the spiritual, emotional and psychological alienation, and culture of lovelessness inherent to modern life to unimaginable depths.

It is not enough to take over the skeletal remains of the engines of our supposed democracy. We need an engine that can drive us away from this mad house to a place where we can breathe freely, see clearly and love deeply. From there we can decide what to do with the state as terrain of struggle; as an actively contested subject.

In addition, we have to be real about how much we as social change agents have to change. Anyone who has been involved in movement work for more than a few months knows how toxic, draining and harmful it can be. Anyone who has been in movement spaces for years can see how much de-colonizing work organizers and activists have to do in order to not reproduce the same or similar hierarchies and aspects of domination we are organizing against. The lovelessness, alienation and competition of the outside word is thoroughly embedded into most movement spaces. At times, we even begin to think of our movements only as brands to be invested in and leveraged.  Similarly, many in the divested communities we organize in think of organizing as a service, like dry cleaning, and expect leaders to be miracle workers for their individual problems.

If a revolution is a people taking power over their own lives, then we have to be honest about the need for our personal and communal transformation to keep pace with our revolution. Once we have power, we need the skills, restraint, balance and communal accountability to wield it differently, as well as the skills, practice and knowledge to wield it effectively. These tools must be put into the hands of many and not reserved for an enlightened vanguard.

We need new, energy efficient and sustainable engines that can be mass produced with drivers who know how to navigate through rough terrain.

[R] Evolution

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Here we run into the chicken or the egg problem of the so called transformative [r]evolution. We cannot have a successful revolution unless we have liberated, healed people to manifest it. We can’t be fully liberated if we are just focusing on surviving an oppressive system. Thus you can’t have the revolution until you have a revolution. Yet, we can’t wait for the perfect leaders to come and guide us. We are the ones we have been waiting for and we will never be perfect so our politics shouldn’t expect us to be. This is why autonomous spaces outside the constraints and expectation of mainstream society are so crucial. In autonomous spaces we have the opportunity to be our full, liberated selves and organize without much [though never all] of the self-limiting beliefs and habits that make organizing so difficult. From these autonomous spaces we can launch campaigns that build personal and communal power and that dismantle oppressive systems. Autonomous, liberated spaces where people can be free from the trauma of modern like, make it easier for us to think and act from a healed and empowered place.

Instead of thinking of a revolution as a series of events that build momentum, we can think of revolution as a cyclical process of carving out autonomous space where we are freer and can look beyond the ideologies of oppression to devise transformative campaigns. These transformative campaigns carve out even more space, while teaching us the necessary skills of resilience, self-governance, and mutual aid.

In these autonomous spaces we can achieve what Elle Hearns calls collaborative solidarity. Collaborative solidarity is where campaigns invest in the leadership capability of the most marginalized so that they can be leaders in their own frontline struggles while in common cause with multi-front campaigns for collective liberation. Then, as stronger movements, we can launch more broad based multi-front attacks on oppressive structures and better protect our communities from repression. Thus, we can see that Revolution is the cars we build around our engines [social movements and autonomous projects] to carry us on our multi-generational journey to liberation. Through all of this work, we can be collectively and individually transformed into the people capable of manifesting a more just world.

The basis of this belief lies in my lived experience organizing for my own freedom and in my observation of other frontline community struggles. It lies in the way I’ve seen Black people reclaim spaces in gentrifying communities, use unapologetic Blackness to expand that space and build community and then launch campaigns to further their material interests, and from that liberated space build political and personal power while psychologically and spiritually transforming themselves. It comes from me seeing flawed Black people find as much healing in shutting down a highway as in a healing circle. It is also based on seeing so many campaigns win symbolic victories that have little effect on people’s lives and instilling no desire to take on the next fight.

This analysis is heavily based off the transformative organizing model, Third World Feminist Analysis of writers like Chela Sandoval, emergent strategies as articulated by the brilliant adrienne maree brown, the visionary work of Black Queer Feminists like Audre Lorde and June Jordan, and the vision of Octavia Butler who understood that change is a primary force in the universe. Also, issues of reclaiming the commons and building autonomy as articulated by Silvia Federici and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Kali Akuno were essential to my thinking.

I also have to give thanks to my various DC activist and organizing communities whose thoughts and perspectives show up in all my work. I appreciate Benjamin Woods, Eugene Puryear and Netfa Freeman for encouraging me to read more about Black freedom movements around the world. Thanks to Marybeth Onyeukwu whose fiery anti-carceral feminism and focus on Black immigrants always encourages me to make critical connections. Thank you to amazing Reece Chenault for reading a draft of this and for our incredibly generative conversations on the practical side of organizing and the politics of love. Special thanks to Rob Wohl and Bjorn Westergard whose late night debates on western Marxism have clarified a lot of my thinking.

Most importantly, much of the transformative nature of this analysis is a direct result of Black Women organizing for liberation in our lifetime. I owe a major spiritual and intellectual debt to Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Erika Totten, Adaku Utah, Omolara Williams McCallister, Katie Lonke and Elle Hearns for their strategic brilliance and cutting edge analysis, their embodied examples of a more livable Black Future and their organizing/healing work which were the initial impetus for this idea. Also my big sister and my immediate family’s first organizer April Goggans who is the reason I started organizing. I also owe an intellectual debt to Buddhist Peace Fellowship whose members brought the intersection of social justice and spirituality and the formation of Build/Block/Be into my life at just the right time to crystalize all of my thoughts into something useful.

Naming this history is important to me because I am interested in highlighting the current existence of and need for more organic intellectuals.

“Traditional intellectuals can distinguish themselves purely through the originality of their ideas or the eloquence of their expression, but organic intellectuals must initiate a process that involves people in social contestation…Organic intellectuals try to understand and change society at the same time…Organic intellectuals generate and circulate oppositional ideas through social action. They create symbols and slogans that expose the commonalities among seemingly atomized experiences, and they establish principles that unite disparate groups into effective coalitions. Most significantly, they challenge dominant interests through education and agitation that expose the gap between the surface harmonies that seem to unite society and the real conflicts and antagonisms that divide it.” George Lipsitz

In my mind, Differential Autonomous Transformation is not something new, nor is it something I created or discovered. Rather, DAT is a description and an analysis of resistance in action. It is an attempt, incomplete but hopefully useful, to synthesis the praxis of many different contemporary organic intellectuals. DAT is an attempt to illustrate the tactical genius of directly affected resistance so that front line communities can learn from each other. DAT is part of the long legacy of the many headed hydra. DAT provides a glimpse of what Susan Buck-Moss calls “universalism from below,” a global revolution for communal autonomy. It allows for the utilization of a specific form of collective subjectivity in which our narrative, political and spiritual terrains become polycentric palimpsests which can be the basis for mass based resistance and collective liberation.

Polycentrism:

  • This means having many centers instead of one
  • Polycentrism is unity in diversity or the ability to incorporate multiple experiences, both subjective and objective, into our understandings of the whole.
  • It means having multi-focal spaces that value a diversity of experiences within the space, allowing for folks to contribute different things to shared projects and receive different benefits from them
  • It means holding pluralistic views without being tolerant of intolerance
  • It means centering the experience and leadership of the most marginalized without reproducing hierarchies.

Palimpsests: is technically a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document. Often the word is used to describe an object made or worked upon for one purpose and later reused for another in which the earlier work can still be seen. Here is a crucial metaphor for understanding the history that is still visible and important in creating our new one.

So What Is Differential Autonomous Transformation?

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Differential Autonomous Transformation [DAT] is a synthesis of emergent strategies of resistance to domination in which oppressed people build engines, guided by a revolutionary love burning in their chests, that manifest the world they want by launching decentralized, targeted swarm attacks on structures of domination to carve out and expand autonomous spaces from which to launch transformative campaigns that build a new world in the shell of the world. DAT is what revolutionary love looks when it is employed by autonomous, healthy, healing communities of resistance simultaneously as tool, weapon, and sustenance.

From my view, DAT is how new social movements in America are trying to build engines of change. DAT is a style of organizing where communities use a praxis composed of several human technologies. A praxis is a cycle of acting, reflecting on the results of that action, reading accounts of other similar actions and then putting all that knowledge to use by acting again. A human technology is a social skill set, ritual or cultural practice that allows people to navigate aspects of the social, political, emotional and spiritual world we create. They are means of social reproduction geared to vision how one can and should move through the world. DAT human technologies allow people to navigate power with increasing agency, autonomy and self-determination.

Most human technologies are passed down to us over generations and re-fined each time an elder teaches it to a youth. Some emerge out of crises to be refined over-time or abandoned once the crisis is averted. Some human technology, especially those we create to deal with trauma are kept long after their usefulness. Human technologies include everything from family structures, to religion, rites of passage, musical genres like the blues or Hip Hop, and hospitality culture to Black folk religion [not to be confused with the hierarchical and colonial Black church] and the hymns and theology that it developed to allow enslaved Africans to recognize and celebrate their humanity under the brutality of slavery.

I believe that over time different conceptions of humanity, human life, human nature or human possibility arise and create a logic to organize our human technologies towards that end. The enlightenment re-organized the human technologies in the image of the rational man in much the same way that neo-liberalism re-organizes society for the economic man.  I believe that the left needs to assert a new vision of humanity, not of human nature but of human possibility, that enables us to ask each other [including ourselves and our enemies] where it hurts and have the skills to move to soothe that pain and dissolve the systems that perpetuate that hurt en masse.

I think that DAT is how left organizers, activists and leaders are re-inventing human possibility in real time and creating different ways to navigate terrains of power in order to end human suffering.

The core human technologies that I see comprise DAT are deeply intertwined and often times inseparable. Like DAT itself, they seek to build a comprehensive whole and compliment each other. They are separated out into three sections for ease of understanding. This is by no means comprehensive. Like everything about this framework, this is just the start of conversation. I hope this essay series leads to people adding on to and challenging this list:

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

  • Critical engagement
    • The ability to read power in real time and devise a series of tactics suited to your conditions that align with an adaptive and emergent strategy for shifting power.
  • Intersectional power mapping
    • The ability to see how multiple systems of oppression influence and work together to create the power dynamics that underlay a given situation while understanding yourself, your communities and their opponents in relation to these system of oppression, resources and power.
  • Strategic collective action
    • People working together to build power-with (not power over) in ways that further goals of liberation, freedom or ending suffering.

Autonomous: To be autonomous is to be healed and whole outside the structures of oppression and away from state supervision.

  • Oppositional Consciousness
    • The realization of how what you want for yourself and your community is fundamentally at odds with what is expected of you from the society.
  • Radical consent as active co-creation in creating systems of mutual aid
    • Rather than merely helping people make informed decisions, it is working together to transform the options available to us so that there are multiple ways for individuals to get their needs met together with an understanding that we cannot separate our individual and communal experiences/contexts.
  • Holistic healing and well-being practices
    • Ways to disrupt cycles of violence and stop communities from passing trauma between each other
  • Decentralized ecosystems [networks] of intentional spiritual, social, political and economic communities
    • Every thing from co-operatives, intentional communities, new monasticism, anarchist collectives, sou-sous, settlement houses, catholic workers, to the elderly couple that opens their homes to the kids in destabilized conditions up the street.
  • Liberated culture
    • having culture based on non-hierarchical, anti-racist, feminist, anti-capitalist values that affirm the inherent value of all people and all bodies. It is a pluralistic culture that is not tolerant of oppression and domination and puts life over profit.

Transformation: To be transformative is to move through the world in way that forces ourselves to grow and that changes the world around us to better reflect the world we want.

  • Transformative Love
    • A commitment to building relationships based on an ethic of ending human suffering by coming together to meet the needs and desires of all parties simultaneously, by transforming the context within which those relationships exist.
  • Faithful Witnessing
    • Witnessing against the grain of oppression.
    • A commitment to deep empathy where we recognize people’s [including our own] actions, thoughts and desires as a result of their social location within systems of oppression and affirm acts of resistance to that oppression even when it is uncomfortable or seen as impolite, “unstrategic” or not sanctioned by mainstream society.
  • Letting the erotic guide
    • Using the viscerally felt joy we experience in life, what Audre Lorde called the erotic, as a guide towards liberation
    • remembering that the point of ending human suffering is to feel joy, wholeness and deep satisfaction.
  • Revolutionary visionary experimentation
    • Praxis of testing our beliefs of what it possible by living them out in the present with a commitment to rigorous critique and self reflection that allow us to sharpen our analysis.

Accountability is a Gift

Accountability is a gift. Even, perhaps especially, when it comes in a form that it is difficult to handle. When I was kicked out of BLM:DC last year, Khadijah approached me and gave me the best advice about accountability I had ever gotten. She said that it’s possible to rebuild from this kind of damage but only if you apologize and only if you apologize what’s actually yours and not more than that. Good advice, but hard to follow.Coming back into this collective was tough and it took the whole group a lot of effort to heal.  I think that most criticism has a kernel of truth to it and it is hard to decide how big or important that kernel is.

The truth is my actions and inactions hurt people I care about. I’m sorry that I have disappointed Schyla, an organizer who I respect, who has defended me and who I have defended to others. I’m sorry that I did not reach out to Melanin Uprising earlier. I’m sorry that I let some of you down and that you feel that my actions did not live up to my rhetoric. This is objectively true. I talk about learning to hold each other, to care for each other, being vulnerable and loving each other in order to get free. I talk about supporting Black women. A lot. Like all the time. I’m never able to live to my own standard. I don’t believe that I say that I do, I think that I try to be clear about my faults and complicity but clearly not enough. Learning to love people in a world that only teaches you how to hate is difficult. Learning to express and receive that love is even more difficult.

I love Chichi. I loved her when we argued over process and I loved her when she walked away from me in Virginia. I wish that she could have heard me in those moments when I told her I love her. I did tell her though. And I did try and show that to her by trying to come up with a process to resolve our conflict in the park that day. That was not how Chichi wanted me to show my love and that’s real.

I do need to say though, that I also love my self and the other members of the collective. When people who love each other disagree and are hurt and angry with each showing love for each other in ways that each other can receive gets real complicated. As I said on Tuesday, Chichi is a phenomenal human being who hurt me and who I hurt. I do feel however that we do all of us, including Chichi, a disservice by making this about an argument in a car in Virginia. This is about hurt people hurting people while trying to get free and the Beautiful Shit show that has been and will always be Black Lives Matter: DC. The was a lot that came before and after that car ride that led us here.

Most of the people who talked only to Chichi before the event assumed she was the victim and came away feeling like we attacked her. I understand that but I do not believe it is true. Most of the people who talked us before the meeting [the handful that asked us questions] saw that there was no victim just hurt people hurting people. For the record, all sides had the opportunity to change the format and invite who they wished. I choose to invite people who I organize with, including non-Black people. I advocated for people with whom I have personal beef with and do not organize with not to be there and I’ll own that, even when they came anyway. I did not want them to use my vulnerability against me. Perhaps that was small of me.

I wish there had been time for community input but we started late. I do realize and own that I did not really look into how to make the process be or appear fair. I did not have the emotional energy after the back and forth of getting it scheduled. I wanted a chance to tell my side of the story because I knew that there was a narrative that, according to some, made me look “foul” that was already out there. At the same time I did not think of my self as the offender.

It was, and is to me, a she said/ he said situation where I decided to wait to say anything until the circle. I waited until the circle to speak out because it seemed like the most constructive thing to do. It still seems that way to me. I’m not sure given how we all felt how this could have better. I was surprised at how gut wrenching it was. I did not expect that to be the case. I now also realize that my silence hurt people in ways I still do not understand. I am sorry if my not reaching out harmed you. I was a lot and I did not know, still do not know, what to do.

Those who are criticizing us now are doing it for all sorts of reasons, most of them seem very valid. We should be real though and acknowledge that most of these criticism existed about BLM:DC before there was any public circle.

BLM:DC is shit show. It always has been. We never quite get all of our ducks in a row. There is always something missing. Something we didn’t know we misunderstood. There is always a better time for us to act; a better way for us to build, share and grow power. We have done some stupid shit. We have not always held people accountable in the most strategic or constructive way [thought there is never a perfect time for critique]. We are not the organizing collective that city deserves [which is why we are not the only one!]. At times I’ve been extremely naïve and sometimes even a bit arrogant. At times I’ve organized from a place of feeling like a victim and feeling disempowered and it was not healthy. I own that. I’m sorry for the hurt that caused.

But it has also been beautiful. We have built something incredible. I feel with have done some things that have never been done. Not alone. Not without the help of the community, this moment, the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and with the people who are now holding us accountable. But what WE have built is beautiful. I believe that at our best we have done this city that I love proud. We have leveraged this moment to bring changes to DC. I believe that Erika, Omolara and April and I have helped shift power to Black people in many spaces throughout this city. I think that Chichi was a crucial part of that work and will continue to build power for Black people in DC. Because of that work and because of the work of other chapters and the movement which bears a similar name, BLM:DC is really visible and we have clout. With that clout and visibility comes responsibility. It is a responsibility that I was not, am not, prepared for.

I believe, and I can only speak for myself, that this visibility and the mantle that we have been given was not the kind we asked for. I believe we have never claimed to be the only or most important M4BL group in DC. I think most people who look critically at the work being done would laugh at that suggestion.  Nor have we claimed that our movement, the Movement for Black Lives, is the only thing that matters. I think we used visibility as a tool and resource to try and build Black power. I think we tried to gain visibility for the cause and were not always prepared to handle the type of visibility we got.

I also know that I personally am not ego-less. Getting credit for my work matters to me. I think that the work I do is important and sometimes pretty dope. I believe that it is undoubtable that my ego, and my desire to get credit which stems from so often having people steal my ideas and take credit for them, has made me show up in some ain’t shit nigga ways at meetings. I did not show up to this movement fully formed. I am not a self-less saint. I am still not fully formed. I hope my growth never ends. I’m just an organizer trying to get free and learning on the [unpaid] job.

Yet there is still is these other expectations. I was naïve to not foresee some of them and others still surprise me. And, I still believe that every time we have been given credit for something that we did not deserve we have named that. I also believe that we have tried to use visibility and clout, including that which came from the name and not directly from our actions. I believe we did this to try and get our community free. I believe that the clout of the movement is a common good and we should all have personal use of it. I do not believe that we tried to own it or claim it for our private use. Some of these criticism seem to assume that power or clout or visibility are scarce resources and that if BLM has them no one can get them. I believe community power exists in abundance.

I do know that I tried to use the movement for personal gain, mostly to shut down white people who wouldn’t take me seriously without naming who I organize with. I think that displaying and leveraging personal power is an important tool for this work. I used my visibility, my writing and my organizing to get speaking gigs of $150-$300 to pay my rent [I do not have a 9-5]. I think my speaking engagements are work that furthers the movement and allows me to continue doing all the unpaid work I do. If you disagree or feel I do this in a harmful, disingenuous way, then let’s talk about it.

Also, BLM:DC is often called elitist. Personally, having grown up in this society I am constantly realizing the ideologies of capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy that I have internalized. I have internalized a lot of anti-Blackness so its impossible that elitism does not show up in my work. I’m sorry if it showing up in my work has hurt people. It’s not me but it is mine.  That said, some of what folks are calling elitism seems off the mark.

People assume things about me that are not true about how I was raised, how much money I grew up with and have access to now or what I think about people based on their perception of me. That hurts because so much of their perception and valuation is wrong. But it will continue because I will not perform my trauma for people just because they called me out. I will not list the ways that I’ve been oppressed, apologize for not liking to process in public, how I speak or how you perceive me in social situations. I speak a good game because it has always given me power. My ability to write and articulate my thoughts has saved my life. I will not apologize for it or accept your narrative about it means about me. I write a lot, use big words and connect lot of shit to theory because that’s how I think. Just like there are always typos in the shit that I write, because that’s how I am.

I am beautifully flawed human being. I do dope shit. I do dumb shit. I make phenomenal things manifest. I open minds and change hearts. I also hurt people. I let people down. I do strategic things. I have a lot of privilege which I need to be held accountable for. I do amazing things that most people can’t while somethings everyone else does are a real honest to god struggle for me. I put in work. My work, our work, is flawed. If you can do it better then do it better. I’ve always believed my work was necessary but not sufficient. If you think I should stop trying to organize for liberation and you are putting in work [seen or unseen, organizing, art, child care etc] then please reach out to me.

The last thing that I want to say is, I joined BLM DC because I didn’t see anyone doing the kind of organizing I wanted. I hope that this criticism removes whatever pedestal folks have placed us on and cause more people to join the movement to organize how they think it should be done. Transformative accountable community power exist in abundance, it is all of our birthrights.

Going forward I will try to hear the criticism that folks are making about me and my work and about the collective I love. I will reach out to people to hear your thoughts. Please remember that communication works both ways. I won’t have the time or energy to reach out to everyone. I don’t know who all feels some kind of way. I want to do better. I will do better. But I will always falter. That’s what community is for.

Thanks for bearing with this long post.

In love and solidarity,

Aaron

 

Sacred Masculinities : A Poem

**This poem was composed based on my reflections during a workshop called “Undoing Patriarchy and Unveiling the Sacred Masculine” at the Brooklyn Zen Center this weekend. **

 

stone silence
warmed by depth of earth
firmness
beating heart rested softly on steel

 

He held me in honor
caressed me against the grain of manhood
like we did as boys
playful
testing boundaries
while holding each other up

climbing towards the sun

Reflections on Korryn Gaines

Last week, a black man died of over-heating in a jail cell/slave quarters in my own city. Last night, a few hours away in Baltimore, a Black woman is killed and her child shot over warrants. Yet, there are few calls for action. There is little national fanfare. Those of us who could do nothing other than take the streets for Alton and Philando are nearly mute in comparison.

We must ask ourselves, in what ways does our relative silence assert consensus with the state over what bodies and lives are disposable? Why are we still holding on to the hope that there is enough justice in this system for it to absolve itself of the blood of the most marginalized among us? Why are we so hesitant to admit that we are in a deadly struggle for the very soul of humanity in which the slow, obscured genocide of Black people by the state is merely one devastating front.

I am torn in a whirlwind of opposing forces. Shame, anger, hypocrisy mix with dread. Where do we go from here? What do we do? How can I be safe if the rules for safety are being obedient to genocide? How can I have agency if my actions do not accurately determine my life chances? Do we keep saying the name of our dead even if it means chipping away at the integrity of our soul? How much of this anger is justified? How much of this anger is blind rage pushing me to become like the institutions I try to dismantle? Do we let our family members die in silence to protect our mental equilibrium? Do we have the courage to say that we too have made mistakes for which we did not deserve to die, that we too wonder what would happened in we dared to threaten to shoot back? For those of us who pride ourselves on speaking truth to power, do we have the courage to speak the truth that scares us? The truth we are not yet ready for? The truth that fills us with the Molotov cocktail of fear, shame and righteous indignation; burning us up inside?

Here is my truth: I do not like to organize, talk about, or strategize around police killings. It tears at my soul. It scares me. It leaves me feeling torn asunder by anger and fear. I am afraid of the police. I only turn up in community to overcome the fear, I organize in the hope to build the community power required to keep my family safe. I shout at protests because it is the closest I can allow myself to come to crying.

I do not often turn up for the deaths of Black people whose lives I feel I have to defend. I sometimes struggle to stand up to this particular white gaze that I feel, projecting that it is unreasonable for a Black woman to defend herself against an occupying army. I am afraid of being the monster that I know they already think I am. I am afraid of the part of me that wants to burn it all down. I am afraid of the part of me who thinks that every crime against the state that we commit is a holy act. I am afraid of the non-rational part of my being that has had enough, and is not interested in being strategic, moral, measured or respectable. I am afraid that saying this will be the justification for the state coming for me and my chosen family.

I’m afraid, and ashamed to be ashamed of the part of me that just wants to be free.

I had to pause to meditate on that. To work through that shame. I had to once again resolve myself to sit in this complexity and know that these forces welling up inside of me are what it means to be human. I had to resolve to hold love and anger in my heart and know that they are not opposites. I am angry because I love myself even when my country doesn’t. I am angry because I love my community even when I am unable to express it.

In this complexity, I am also sad because I love people who do not see my humanity and it renders my soul to pieces.

I am ashamed that I still love people who cannot handle my full humanity, because I feel like I am allowing this world to torture me. I am ashamed that I am so afraid to express my full range of feelings because it makes me feel broken , helpless and bestial at the same time. I am ashamed that I have not routed out the vestiges of the lie of Black inferiority and bestiality from my mind. I am ashamed that this fear allows Black women to be killed in their homes and Black children to wake up in hospitable motherless because I try and am known for supporting Black women and children in my work.

Yet I will not internalize this shame, I will not let it incorporate itself into my being.

I resolve that I will forgive my self of this hypocrisy, elitism and sexism once I refuse to continue to perpetuate it. I resolve to love myself in spite of the obstacles the world throws in the way. I resolve to sit in this complexity of emotions and revel in the humanity they foolishly believe they can strip away. I resolve to stand in solidarity with all other freedom fighters waging a war for the soul of humanity from Syria to Palestine to South Africa to Brazil. I resolve to build a world in which the names of the Black women and formerly incarcerated folks I say and venerate are alive and free. Until that day, I will light a candle for #JoyceQuaweay, #KorrynGaines, #LesterIrby #SkyeMockabee #AllBlackPeople.

 

Building-Blocking-Being [or things I learned from Buddhists]

Last weekend I got the distinct privilege to go on a leadership retreat in the Bay Area put on by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship which focused, in part, of their Build/Block/Be framework for spiritually in-tune social justice work. Below is a brief overview [at least of my understating] of that frame work and poetic reflection of my amazing time at the retreat!

Build: An analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives

Examples: teaching, study, restorative justice, cooperative economics, solidarity economics, consciousness building groups, cop watch, intentional communities, time banks, inclusive leadership approaches, reparations.

 

Block: Actions to slow damage to beings, communities and the earth itself

Examples: blockades, whistle-blowing, survival programs, boycotts, lobbying/protesting, work-stoppages/strikes. Withholding tacit consent to our oppression in ways that make the wound visible.

Be: Shifts in consciousness and new paradigms that are embodied individually and collectively before, after and during blocking and building actions in order to increase sustainability, effectiveness and trans-formative pre-figurative capabilities. The underlying view point that encompasses why want to Block something and how you go about building.

Examples: Differential consciousness, methodology of the oppressed, Black love politics, humanist/evolutionary marxism, Liberation Theology

Blocking-Building-Being

Sometimes beauty overwhelms me
Sometimes my power overwhelms me
Sometimes your beauty overwhelms me

 
Sometimes the brown eyes, and smiles, and revolutionary acts of kindness makes me undone.
Sometimes the shutdown/stand up/fight back/ March on/make breakfast/still love is too much to bare.
Sometimes your ability to hold the world & the legions inside of you in balance is kinesthetic poetry
Sometimes revolutionary/transformative power flows through the me/us/Inseparable/Ubuntu

Sometimes I can see/feel the line between where I am and where I want to go
A long golden arch of faith
Twisting-
Turning-
Flowing freely like these words through our lips
Being bent towards justice
 
I can feel/sense this pull of energy
And ride it through time
Navigating through and around bodies in motion
Gathering power as I/we slide

 
Sometimes this command whispers to me
Stroking my hive mind gently
Lifting us up
Coaxing me to break the world

Sometimes I/We listen.
Sometimes I break all the rules:
Building, blocking, being,
Transforming,
Growing,
Nurturing,
Weeding,
Feeding,
Watering,
Letting the runoff drown the invasive species
As I slide towards liberation.

In these moments I/We Am/Are Whole-
But still hungry-
Never alone.

We stand with all
Time travelers, sliders, growers of power, warriors for peace
 

Building, Blocking, Being:
The deconstructors of worlds.
Called forth to be the healers of our ancestors
And spirt guides to our descendants.

We are more beautiful than they ever imagined
We are more powerful than even we can see
We are more capable than they could have hoped for
We are everything they’d hope we’d be.

We are our ancestor’s wildest dreams.

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