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.

13590325_10100881658860400_3230087652150515939_n

Eulogy for the parts of us that died with #AltonSterling

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn everything.

Burn the police stations where they strap their guns on

Burn the corner store where they get their coffee

Burn the laundry mat where they wash our blood off their uniforms

Burn the bank that foreclosed on our mother’s house and where they cash their paycheck

Burn the schools where they teach us to hate ourselves then arrest us for not attending

Burn the American flags they will wrap their bodies in when they die in their beds 30 years after they put six shots into ours backs

Burn the courthouses where they will not be indicted

Burn the doors to the prisons they will not pass through

 

We will burn down the system we were not meant to survive

And rub the ash on our skin and let it make us darker

Rub it in until we are as Black as the truth they are not yet ready for

Rub it in until we are so Black that all the enemies of negro liberty will tremble in terror

 

When we return in the whirlwind we will burn this mother fucker to the ground

This nation will be torn asunder

Its sins finally exposed to the purifying evening air

And then we will go boldly into that good night

Finally Free. Unapologetic. Self-aware.

Armed with the swagger of a nation whose time has come.

Preliminary Elements of a Liberated Culture

 Context of the Need for a Liberated Culture

We now live in a world in which corporations are finding new ways to make money off of our private lives. This is clear through apps like task rabbit, which show that some workers are so busy working that they have to outsource their errands to workers in worse economic situations and then will have to work more to be able to afford more errands. This a continuation of a centuries long change of humanity as an fundamentally economic, rather than social creature, as our jobs become the primary way we experience and orient our life.  At the same time, with trade deals like the TPP, corporations are starting to try to overstep the control and regulations [a.k.a. accountability] of national governments.

These two processes taken together are sometimes called neoliberal globalization or transnational post-modern capitalism. These invasions of capital and market forces into our private lives further increases the marginalization or social outcasting of communities on the basis of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation and national origin while weakening or displacing us from the communal spaces and cultural traditions that have historically sustained us and been the basis of opposition to previous invasions of the market into our private lives.

This is in addition to the infringements of the government into our lives either for the same interests or for the sake of “national security” or “American Values.” For instance, New York state has recently based legislation that creates a public terrorist registry, akin the sex offender registry and made not registering on the list [which include finger prints, photographs and a DNA sample] a felony. Most disturbingly, this list is based on the federal terror watch list,  in which mere perceived association with a individual involved in terrorism or an organization categorized as a terror group is proof of terrorism. Basically, if you are a Muslim or political dissent you might be a this list. It is only a matter of time until ridiculous applications of anti-lynching laws get M4BL activists on a similar list. Not to mention all the ways in which mostly male legislators try to curtail bodily autonomy of women.

It is my belief that in order to stop [and hopefully reverse] the advance of this new totality of post-modern capitalism and state dominance a new political analysis and strategic outlook is necessary. A politics that allows us to recognize each new incursion of capitalistic forces and state dominance and develops a posture and strategy of opposition tailored to repeal it. It 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 and state domination seems the only feasible mode of opposition to an arrangements of corporate and elite interests [post-modern capitalistic hegemony] that has steadily abandoned centralization in specific countries or bodies like the WTO in favor of totality and near omnipresence.

The differential modes of organizing outlined by Chela Sandoval in “The Methodologies of the Oppressed” seem to be such a politics. Briefly, it is the strategy of reading these 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 you 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. These decisions would be based on which tactic better suited your community’s needs, abilities and goals rather than a dogmatic theory of change from an earlier era.

This piece is an attempt to start a conversation about the communal culture from which such a guerrilla opposition could be mounted and a politics like the methodology of the oppressed could be utilized.  Such a culture is crucial to the use of a differential methodology of the oppressed in order to ensure that what Chela Sandoval calls “oppositional consciousness.” Oppositional conscious is a 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 [i.e. liberated from] state centered capitalist ideology, values and paradigms so that we can strategically demolish those ideologies, values and paradigms while dismantling the structures and interests they serve.

Liberated culture is the ground from which modern urban maroons [communities of resistance] can raid and weaken post-modern capitalistic societies without running the risk of recuperations and co-optations or other forms of “selling out” or doing our opposition’s work for them.  Drawing from third world feminist perspectives and strategies, Chela Sandoval’s differential politics also allows for the broad based, transformative coalitions that are inclusive of all the socially constructed identities of modern life [including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and national origin] necessary for social transformation.

This is because central to the differential politics reading of power is an intersectional framework that illuminates how power effects different people based on their identities. It conditions the strategist to include the social location and specific material interests of all stakeholders in planning our opposition. This ensures that our proposed tactics create solutions with spaces for all oppressed bodies and builds coalitional power in which our diversity is an asset to be celebrated not a potentially divisive fact to be elided.

 

Elements of a Liberated Culture

 

Below are cultural elements that, taken together, represent a significant break from mainstream ideology and culture which is capitalistic and domineering. It is mt hope that readers will be able to use them as preliminary materials to constitute a liberated culture. This is not to say that these are the elements of the “right” or “correct” culture. Rather, this is the result of an analysis of cultural tendencies that combat and dismantle dominate middle class white capitalist culture, toxic masculinity and the authoritarian “high modernism” of the state.

More immediately, the hope is that this will also complicate our understanding of “safe spaces” and cultures of resistance. Too often safe space is a meaningless phrase used to encourage people to share or be vulnerable. It is exceedingly difficult to create spaces that are safe, in the sense that the likely hood of harm is low when the goal of space is to explore the tender and unprotected parts of our being in order to collectively strategize resistance.

This is doubly true around issues of race, class, gender and other marginalized identities in which disruption of comfort zones and agitation are crucial to growth and transformation. Therefore, supportive spaces of agitation is usually a more helpful goal than making a place safe. These elements are an attempt to start a conversation about what do supportive spaces for transformational agitation and anti-capitalist resistance look like as capitalism moves into a trans-national post-modern format and the illusion of a “free society” crumbles in the wake of proto-fascism.

Likewise, cultural organizers often talk about the need to change our culture before any new alternative institutions are created. Yet, many organizers lack a concrete vision of what culture would replace the current status quo. This is then an attempt to outline the elements of such a culture and to begin to highlight social practices that might infuse spaces and communities with that culture. This is attempt to go beyond merely saying that culture of resistance is anti-racist, feminist and non-hierarchical [which is all true]. It is worth noting that in this sense culture is described in terms of values, view-points and practices. Another study of potential institutions and structures is needed to make this truly operational.

As with all preliminary materials from the Well Examined Life, this is a starting point for conversation. These aspects borrow heavily from conversations with Omolara Williams McCallister and Erika Totten. They are also inspired by the writing and intellectual work of Adrienne Maree Brown whose work [Emergent Strategies]  highlights invaluable tools for practicing differential politics and Alexis Pauline Gumbs [Revolutionary Mothering and her work on dreams]. The part on nuturance was inspired by Nora Samaran’s “The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture.

This was also written with an eye towards building, reclaiming and sustaining “the commons” as the basis of a potential network of new Maroon Societies in which new social relationships could be fostered. With that in mind this work is indebted to writers like Silvia Federici and essays like “The Dragon and the Hydra” by Russel Maroon Shoats which I strongly suggest readers explore.

Again, these are preliminary materials. Please comment with feedback, push-back and constructive criticism. If you have any resources that you feel would be helpful in refining these elements, please send to the wellexaminedlife [at] gmail.com.

Iterative:

  • To value iteration is to value continual experimentation and constant reflection. It is the belief that conversations, projects and campaigns should be tweaked and repeated until it brings us closer to our greatest good.
  • Epic Memory: long, running oral histories and multi-generational collective memories that value multiple forms of memory creation and story creation ensuring that histories of resistance and communal identities are passed down in their most useful form.
  • Value of fluidity and change in process, language and understanding in way that prevents dogmatic approaches to change or belief in a firm destination.
  • Understanding that constructive process are ongoing and will have to be constantly re-worked as situations change and new information is incorporated

What this could look like in practice:

  • Viewing all documents and statements as living and unfinished. Establishing a practice of editing foundational documents, notes, syllabi, curriculum, plans or by-laws as new insights, lessons and perspectives are added.
  • Adding communal storytelling to community events where the narratives of activities, campaigns, or communal histories are collectively created and revisited on a regular basis
  • Evaluating progress in multi-dimensional ways so that not only are benchmarks established by the tools for assessment, goals, and underlying values of assessment are openly talked about and reviewed over the course of an endeavor.

Abundance:

  • To operate from abundance is to operate from the belief that you and your community are able to work together to get that which is necessary for you to thrive. It is the belief that you already have everything you need.
  • To operate in abundance means to remember that there are multiple ways to fulfil a need, even when the typical resources or avenues for satisfying that need are not readily available.
  • Knowledge that you, and everyone else, is already enough
  • Radical generosity that stems from a belief that the universe/ God/the movement/community/something greater than ourselves will provide
  • All resources can be shared including power and responsibility, which means someone getting more does not require that someone else must get less.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Actively removing self-limiting language from group conversations.
  • When resources seem limited moving from a task oriented process where specific resources are necessary to a goal oriented process that assesses multiple paths to getting what is needed
  • Building an affirming culture that centers the individual and communal history of past victories over triumphs that allow us to plan from a belief in our ability to succeed
  • Trying, whenever possible, to connect the communities we are spending resources in with the communities we are building up so that things like buying food for a meeting increases the resources of the community you are buying food for.

Generative:

  • Every endeavor seeks to create more possibilities
  • Value of open ended processes, situations and questions
  • Valuing transition points as points of magic and opportunity
  • Eye towards sustainability as the key to ensuring human endeavors reach their greatest potential

What this might look like in practice:

  • Instead of seeking to decide on one particular path, time is spent developing multiple potential paths and taking those most likely to bear fruit that leave other potential options open.
  • Building campaigns that can fail forward, where even if the ultimate goal is not reached the community is more powerful than before, more able to work together or has a sharper analysis.
  • Seeking, whenever possible, not to burn bridges or interpersonal connections because all people and relationships can become fruitful if tilled and nurtured.
  • Using a non-capitalist model for paying for service provision like Dana, in which you pay for the service to exist in your community in all of its forms, not just for the labor of the person providing the service to you.

 

Adaptive to life:

  • Systems change to accommodate human needs rather than humans conforming to systems
  • Value of a diversity of participation and inclusion
  • Interacts with people as whole persons, understanding economic, cultural, psychological and physical context, needs and desires

What this might look like in practice:

  • Having childcare, food and transportation support at all events to ensure not having those things is not a barrier to participation from the community
  • Hosting multi-generation spaces where children and elders are centered in a poly-centric way ensuring that caregivers do not have to choose between communal activities and family obligations
  • Adding bio-breaks and allowing people to leave and re-enter spaces as necessary to meet their needs
  • Hosting meetings in locations that are fully accessible rather than ones that are most conducive to the planner’s agenda.
  • Having times that services are provided match the schedules of constituents rather than paid staff
  • Investing in family leave policies, paternity leave and sick leave that includes chosen and non-traditional families

Communal

  • To be communal is to understand synergy as meaning not only are we capable of greater things when we work together but as individuals we are greater when we are pushed, supported, taught and able to teach others.
  • Communal spaces are multi-generational spaces where mutual encumbrance is seen as an asset & shared ownership & shared responsibility are defaulted to due to a sense of shared destiny
  • A value of Ubuntu [A bantu philosophical term meaning roughly “human kindness” or “I am who I am because of who we all are” ] which means a shift in understanding of human individuality as merely an individualization of a communal existence rather than completely isolated and separate entities coming together.
  • Reframing individual vs collective tensions to see how the dichotomy is a false one

What this might look like in practice:

  • Practices shared leadership where members rotate responsibilities including hosting, facilitation, note taking, childcare, providing food
  • A value of personal property [which is based on use] over private property [which is based on trade] where most goods are held in communal spaces through mechanisms like food pantries, clothing exchanges and “free stores”
  • Investing in times for community meals, community report backs of major events and shared communal festivals like annual summer block parties where a sense of the “commons” and communal identity is reclaimed.
  • Investing in a solidarity economy, a moral economy or a caring economy in which community resources are equitably shared among community members
  • Building a culture of loving accountability and restorative justice understanding that communities are built and maintained through love and shared intentions not merely organically grown when individuals are thrown together.

 

 

Poly Centric

  • This means 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

What this might look like in practice:

  • Using “differentiated instruction” where multiple types of learning [kinesthetic, auditory, visual etc] are engaged with in one meeting
  • Adopting a practice in accepting multiple truths when debriefing actions or talking about history and theory
  • Avoiding centralization or the belief that a single, central body has the sole authority to make certain decisions
  • Starting coalitional consciousness building groups were issues are discussed from the lived experience of the participants with an eye towards examining commonalities and the social location and power dynamics of our differences.

 

 

Poly Rhythmic

  • Complex coalescence; synchronistic arrangements of activity, multiple patterns of behavior that come together to make a more complex and resilient whole.
  • Allowing people to interact in space and activities at various, complementary wave lengths and energies
  • Encouraging self-organization and collaboration over coordination and centralization.

What this might look like in practice

  • Focusing on a diversity of tactics or methods where complementary tactics are used harmoniously in an action or campaign
  • During meetings, having breakout time when groups split up and work on different issues or the same issues in different ways rather than having everyone working on the same activity at the same time
  • Don’t assume one correct way to engage with a process, be open to spontaneous rehashing of instructions or paths as long as we all arrive to useful destinations as a result

 

 

Nurturing

  • Spaces that are trauma informed and therefore center the need for healing and restoration of our bodies, minds, spirits and communities
  • Supports growth both personally and communally in all aspects of life including intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.
  • Emotional labor is recognized, supported, exulted, compensated and shared across genders as an integral responsibility and opportunity of all human beings.
  • People are seen as being on a transformative path towards their individual and collective greatest good. Mistakes are temporary and repeated mistakes are seen an indicators of emotional or intellectual blocks that must be addressed rather than pathologized.

What this might look like in practice

  • Developing a practice of naming when you are asking for emotional labor to process and issues and compensating that labor by being open to giving emotional labor or providing other services like childcare, transportation, cooking food, cleaning etc
  • Having a communal habit of dealing with conflict through a restorative justice lens with mediation and healing
  • Invest in time, space and practice in healing in organization, campaign or movement spaces
  • Have support groups for different areas in which stress, trauma or otherwise lack of nurturance effects our lives or for groups of people that often don’t have key nurturance skills [men, folks with class privilege]

 

 

Creative Manifestation

  • A belief in our individual and collective ability to change the context in which we live
  • A view of thought as constructive of our experiences that places a value of action in service to a vision
  • A belief that we “will what we want,” is not to ignore our material realities but rather to be able to reframe our analysis of our material reality to see the various ways that we can achieve what we want and to be open to new opportunities that would give us access to what we want.

What this might look like in practice:

  • The use of visions board and other means of setting clear, actionable intentions for our life
  • Investing in emotional emancipation to help us shed the chains and self-limiting beliefs that might tell us that we do not deserve that which we desire.
  • Actively combating cynicism by building on histories in which victories seemed “impossible” and creative personal narratives of triumph.
  • Investing in a culture of affirmational agitation where we constantly push people to grow and support them in wanting and striving for things beyond their current capacity in order for them to grow.

 

 

Transformative Love

  • Transformation is a dual process of changing the world around us and how we engage it in order to achieve our greatest good. Central to our belief in transformation is the role of transformative love.
  • Transformative love is the belief that we must love each other and that love is a political act. When you love someone you are compelled to do what’s best for them. It compels you to not only transform yourself to be someone worthy of them loving you but it also compels you transform the context in which your relationship exist. For instance, anyone who wants Black liberation must hold and foster a transformative love of Black people.
  • Value systems, habits and processes that allow the expression of love in ways that are mutually affirming
  • The ability to understand, affirm and appreciate the social position, desires and needs of another human being and work collaboratively to change individual and communal contexts so that all parties are able to fulfil those needs and desires in their new contexts.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Building a culture of affirmation in which we take time proactively affirm the gifts, contributions and energies that people bring into spaces and our lives.
  • Looking for solutions outside of the current systems where the root causes of the problem are addressed and stake holders are given an opportunity for personal transformation.
  • Launching “non-reformist reforms” or “radical reforms” in which systems of oppression are dismantled or the state’s ability to dominate people is limited thereby changing the context in which problems arise and solutions can be generated
  • Investing in the leadership development of new activist instead of dismissing them for not having a fully established revolutionary analysis
  • Investing in transformative relationships and culture of naming the context in which our desire and needs arise in order to open that context up to the change necessary for everyone’s needs to be meet.

 

 

Grounded

  • A sense of perspective that understands our position within larger mechanisms or longer historical narratives that give our actions, desires and aspirations a holistic context allowing us the whether the ups and down of social movements without burn-out or investing in frustrated self-limiting behavior.
  • A belief in something positive and larger than one’s individual experience that situates our individual importance within an understanding of complexity, scale and scope of the natural, emotional, physical, metaphysical and intellectual world.
  • For many this grounding is deeply spiritual even religious, for others it is deeply communal and for yet others it may be a simple sense of wonder at the complex beauty of those things which exist beyond our intellectual understanding that shows us there is more to life than our intellectual understanding of it.

What this might look like in practice

  • A reclaiming and decolonization of spiritual practices, spaces and doctrines so that they can be spiritually and emotionally fulfilling while not being dogmatic, authoritarian or colonial.
  • Taking time for guided meditation or deep breathing in meeting spaces.
  • Reclaim religious traditions like prayer, meditation, fasting that is linked with anti-authoritarian political practices and intentional communal living as we see beginning in the “new monostaticism” movements or the adoption of Yoruba inspired spiritual practices in the M4BL.
  • Building a habit of placing activities and campaigns in larger historical context of resistance and revolution endeavors that stretch over centuries
  • Building a practice of starting the day listing the things we a grateful for and the people who make our life worth living

 

Loving Accountability

  • Just, proportional, restorative confrontation in which mistakes are addressed without shame and the inherent humanity of all parties are recognized including the capacity and need for all parties to grow and heal.
  • Reciprocal interactions in which the needs, interests, context and history of all parties are understood and accounted for are the default
  • Consent is mandatory and viewed as an iterative and generative process. This means that communication is constant, updates are regular and differences of opinion are resolved through deliberative process that seek to find third and fourth options that meet all needs rather than “fair” compromises.

What this might look like in practice:

  • Making sure each meeting ends with next steps with timelines and delegating who is responsible for the next step and how they would like to be held accountable in following through on their commitment.
  • Investing in calling-in instead of gossiping and only resolving to “call out” when call ins have been rebuffed or repeatedly not changed behavior.
  • Building a culture of critique in which loving, direct communication is used during debriefs to about necessary changes that need to be made
  • Building a culture of restorative justice where disagreements are worked out and arguments are viewed from all sides, including the investigating where feeling such as anger, fear and jealously might be coming from
  • Instituting workshops on navigating consent in romantic and platonic relationships
  • Tying ideas of informed consent to ideas of self-determination and democracy

 

Communal and Independent Critical Engagement

  • Critical Engagement means valuing independent investigation of the truth where all values and ways of understanding must be open to interrogation, dialog and change. We all have the responsibility to challenge the assumptions of supposed truths and articulate them in way that is meaningful for us and works in our context. It is an essential protection against the perils of dogma.
  • Critical engagement, in this sense, is when you are an active participant in a process while understanding your location in that process, your ability to change that process and how that process changes you.
  • Communal critical engagement means that decisions are discussed with all stake holders and made with consideration of the community’s position in society more broadly. It weaves together decisions about the communal good with the regional and global good by understanding the ecosystem and networks of systems that communities are a part of.
  • Critical Engagement also means what Maria Lugones called “faithful witnessing.” It means to “witnesses against the grain of power, on the side of resistance. To witness faithfully, one must be able to sense resistance, to interpret behavior as resistant even when it is dangerous, when that interpretation places one psychologically against common sense.” Or, as Yomaira C. Figueroa says, it “is an act of aligning oneself with oppressed peoples against the grain of power and recognizing their humanity, oppression, and resistance despite the lack of institutional endorsement.” By stepping out of the mainstream ideology of dominance and seeing how resistance and opposition work in our daily lives we can create “a rich source of tactical and strategic responses to power.” [Chela Sandoval].

What this might look like in practice:

  • Investing in study groups and coalitional consciousness building groups where accepted truths, theories, analysis and ideologies are challenged and evaluated based on how effectively they serve us and map unto our lived experience and understanding of history.
  • A practice of personal manifesto writing and circulation that ensures we do not accept something as truth just because someone with authority says it is true. We must be able to rearticulate it in our own words and defend it under compassionate critique.
  • Free schools where human curiosity, dialogue and self-directed intellectual exploration replaced curriculums, cannons and lectures
  • The use of popular education tools in our political education programs

 

 

My Personal Core Values:

 

I boil this culture down into  7 Core Values:

Loving Empathy: the ability to understand the position, desires and wants of others and to see elements of yourself in them

Transformation: an intentional communal or interpersonal process of changing our context and how we interact with it

Vision: The ability to step outside the confines of mainstream thought and guide ones transformation in order to make the impossible possible.

Justice: Manifesting transformation through loving empathy in alignment with a communal vision

Struggle: the continual process of practicing justice in our daily lives

Story-telling: Illustrating our struggle in such a way as to highlight our progress, lessons learned and aspirational destinations.

Study: learning lessons from our individual struggle and collective story-telling with the hope that our collective capacity for visioning will increase.

 

A Brief Defense of Identity Politics and Intersectionality

“Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the interest and perspectives of groups with which people identify. Identity politics includes the ways in which people’s politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through loosely correlated social organizations. Examples include social organizations based on race, class, religion, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, ideology, nationality, sexual orientation, culture, language (i.e. regional language / minority language) information preference, history, musical or literary preference, medical conditions, professions, or hobbies. Not all members of any given group are necessarily involved in identity politics.

The term identity politics and movements linked to it came into being during the latter part of the 20th century. It can most notably be found in class movements; feminist movements; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movements; disability movements; ethnic movements; and post-colonial movements.[1] Minority influence, a central component of identity politics, is a form of social influence whereby a majority is influenced by the beliefs or behavior of a minority. Unlike other forms of influence this usually involves a personal shift in private opinion[citation needed] called conversion.” –Wikipedia [using Wikipedia to talk about our colloquial use of terms, not out of laziness or a belief that it has the most accurate or useful definition of terms]

 

 

We fight about identity politics constantly in today’s political culture. Everyone, on the left and the right, seem to be against identity politics. Paul Ryan is against identity politics and argues instead for us to recognize our “Americanness.” Some Black Nationalists, both cultural and revolutionary, say that it is meaningless, naïve or lacking in actual understanding of the how power works. Some Marxist tend to deride it for being “insufficiently Marxist” which can mean anything from being naïve, liberal, not anti-capitalist or misunderstanding the material construction of reality in favor of ideas. Yet all of these groups set up programs based on specific identities; be it our America first, Blackness or the working class. How are these identities different than LGBTQ or Latinx, or Muslim of other identities whose activist are often labeled identitarians?

 

Hint: they are not.

 

The right attacks identity politics because there are some identities they don’t like while the left attacks it for how it orients itself towards identity. Often, online and interpersonal critiques are a mix of both left and right view-points. Some of this backlash against identity politics is historic. Many identity movements were a direct response to marginalization of specific people in larger broad based movements. Women’s Liberation, in part, comes out of the sexism that women experienced in the anti-war and civil rights movements. Queer liberation/gay separatism comes, in part, out the homophobia experienced by LGBTQ folks in the women’s liberation movement. Black Queer Feminism comes, in part, out of a history of exclusion and marginalization in all of those spaces.

 

As is common in popular discourse, ideological tendencies get typified by their most extreme, obnoxious or vilified elements. There was notably extreme identity essentialism that ran through many of these identitatarian movements, especially in separatist tendencies. Radical feminists sometimes advocated for political lesbianism and even castration of men. But this is not that different from the radical fringes of Marxists who reduce everything to purely economic terms and bloody class warfare or nationalist who feel that some mythical connection to Africa will free Black people or killing white people is equivalent to freedom. Every tendency has it extremists, its liberal apologist, its nut jobs. Every movement has its tenets taken out of context.

 

The problem is that many of us on the left, myself included, sometimes let these highly visible elements detract from the very valid points these off-shoot social movements raised about other movements. We forget that radicalization is a long, messy process with many detours and pitfalls. No one comes to movement work with our analysis fully formed, it is shaped in action and resistance. Instead of letting steel sharpen steel and internal critique sharpen our critique of the system many organizations and tendencies went their separate ways.

 

Even I admit that I let the worse tendencies of cultural nationalism blind me to the important insights that revolutionary nationalist have made to Black liberation work.

 

“The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend differences, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite—that it frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences.” Kimberle Crenshaw [the inventor of intersectionality].

 

It would not be fair to lump all the backlash against identity politics into personal hurt feelings and extremism on the wings historically. There is still a vibrant, loud and destructive wing of identity politics that is, to use word from the tendency itself, problematic.

 

When people criticize identity politics they seem to generally mean the politics of identity innocence and victimization. What they are often really criticizing is either this belief that the oppressed are innocent and the oppressors are evil or that one identity should be the primary focus over all others in every situation. This tendency oftens turns calling out privilege into the politics of victimization or muddles systemic critics with indentitatarian boogy men of racist, gender or sexual orientation bias. It shuts down debate or transforms critiques of the system into personal ideologies that come from our [insert identity here].

 

However, not all identity politics assume some innocence. Not all identitatarians place one identity at the center of their analysis. In fact real intersectional identity politics is based on the mutual complicity of all people in different facets of oppressive systems, systems that can’t be fully understood outside of their mutual and material context.

 

 

 

“Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. The theory suggests that—and seeks to examine how—various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age, nationality and other sectarian axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels. The theory proposes that we should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity.[1] This framework can be used to understand how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis.[2] Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.” Wikipedia

 

 

 

Identity politics is useful when it allows us to better understand social positions and power relationships between individuals, groups and systems. Complicit-intersectional-identity politics with a strong understanding of the material construction of identity allows us to understand how dominance and “power over” effects different people in systems in a way that can inform strategy and tactics for opposition to those systems. This way of viewing power is most useful in coalitions across differences. Whether you are a revolutionary nationalist trying to build a united Black front that includes Black immigrants, women and elders or a communist party trying to form a anti-capitalist movements that includes all workers you need to know how the system you intend to destroy effects the members of your coalition.

 

Intersectionality comes out practice in movement spaces where “dual oppressions” and unitary movements like anti-racism and [middle-class white] feminism was unable to devise strategies for addressing rape and domestic violence against black women. They both posed the most privileged people’s experience of a particular form of oppression as “universal.”All Black people face racism like Black men and women experience patriarchy like white women.

Historically dualistic and unitary lenses have pit the interest of Black men and white women against each other [or Latino immigrants vs “native born” Black communities and other false dichotomies]. Even dual oppression typically is unable to understand the specific ways in which capitalist and the state exploit black women, Black immigrants, queer Latinx, Black Muslims etc. It also does not allow for black men or white women [or other groups with both oppressive and oppressor identities] to understand their complicity in the oppression of black women [or other multiply marginalized groups].

 

Ironically, by not using an intersectional lens young or overly dogmatic revolutionary nationalist and Marxist alike sometimes fall into the same innocence based identity politics that they criticize “idenitarians” for. The enemy becomes the “capitalist” or the “bourgiose state” or ” the white man” or “neo-colonialism.” It makes their identity as working class or black revolutionaries the hero of their own histories in a way that does not require critical self-reflection, personal transformation or the nuance that comes with political maturity.

 

The Black radical doesn’t have to ask himself if he must treat his white sister and Black sister differently [morally or strategically]; the Marxist does not have to ask if he must treat the Black worker and middle class Black professional differently. Sometimes this means that the critique from white women is overlooked as them “not being down with Black liberation” or the needs of Black women being overlooked because your feminist analysis is based on the needs of white women. Likewise, the white middle class communist organizer might simply overlook the calls of discrimination in the workplace from middle class Black professionals [even fellow organizers]. The problem here, is a lack of nuance and narrowness in thinking about identity, not in thinking critically about identity itself.

 

In this lack of nuance the ability to have large, robust, transformative coalitions is limited. The micro-aggressions, hostility and interpersonal violence of the long 60’s movements are as good a proof of this as the oppression olympics and myopic view of identity in today’s social movements are. Focusing on identity is only a problem if you view that identity simplistically and outside of larger systemic, historical and material contexts. Contrary to what many seem to think, identity politics don’t spell the end of massive broad based politics, it merely complicated our thinking.

 

Every good organizer knows that you can only organize people about what they already care about. If you can’t figure out how to find common ground with someone then you can’t organize them. At the same time if you can’t identify your differences and how your social locations change your interests you will be unable to achieve victories that work for everyone. Likely, those with the least amount of power will not get their needs met and will not stay in coalitions for long. Or, the the opposition will uses those unacknowledged different interests to divide you. Without an appreciation of these differences we will all return to our silos wondering what happened.

 

As long as our identities are based in material inequities and structural oppression they will remain critical pieces and launching points for opposition and solidarity.  To ignore our differences or to limit them is to pretend that the world we live in is not as it really is. In order to change the world we must first learn to accept it in all of its complexity.

Intersectionality and identity politics are not the end all be all of political analysis. They are not stand ins for systemic critique of capitalism or state power, regardless of how often they are used as such. Just like a calculator is the not the end all be all of computation. It’s a tool. Like any tool it’s only as good as the worker who wields it. It is only as useful as our understanding of dialectical materialism, historical materialism, decolonialism, anti-imperialism, social reproduction theory, personal emotional emancipation and healing etc help us in using it.

We also shouldn’t pretend that the spaces we gravitate to and the tendencies we most easily accept don’t have anything to do with our identities. We should not pretend that there are hard truths about ourselves and our position in society that we sometimes use our analysis to over look. Marxist universalism is easier to accept if your community has a history of being depicted as universal. This is no different than marxist claims that the middle class or “petit bourgeoisie” is often not likely to be down with a proletariat revolution. Social position informs which political actions we are likely to take and which we are likely to stick to when faced with state repression.

 

To throw out intersectionality because someone used privilege to obscure a larger systemic critique is like stopping using wrenches because a bad plumber once tried to use it as a hammer. You’d be better off finding a better plumber, or better yet teaching the plumber how to use a hammer. Similarly the fact that pyramids were built without electricity doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it for building the new world we want to live in. Dual oppression was useful in its day [and often was a proto-intersectional lens] but doesn’t have the benefit of the last 50 years of movement experience.

 

More to the point, since our opponents are apt at using our identities against us, like how transphobia was used to justify a massive attack on worker’s rights in HB2, it seems like we should be better at using our identities and their interests to mobilize opposition. Intersectionality is one tool that helps us to do that. Intersectionality also insures that our “Marxist universalism” is not centering whiteness or masculinity or leaving out critical elements of domination outside of economics. Intersectionality helps us to build the kind of mass based movements that we tried to build in the long 60’s; ones that are not easily divided by state repression, ones in which we can bring our whole selves, ones that are large enough to hold our interests when we have to raise families and pay the rent.

 

Intersectionality and identity politics will not save us. Not by themselves. No single tool can. But it will help us to build sustainable movements that hold critique and have steel sharpen steel until we have weapons sharp enough to destroy whatever obstacles trans-national, postmodern white supremacist cis-hetero patriarchal capitalism throws in our way and coalitions solid enough to continue fighting together.

Meditation for Queer Bodies

Please closes your eyes, make yourself comfortable and reflect on these words.
Forget any misgivings or preconceptions you may have about meditation. This is intended to help folks trying to process today’s violence.

As my friend Marybeth says, it’s not that serious.
Just make yourself comfortable.
Relax and reflect upon my words:

 

 

Honor all of your emotions in this space.

Do not repress your fear, anger or hate.

All of your emotions are valid.

Everything about you is valid and deserves affirmation.

But let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

Search for your connection to our gorgeous queered future.

As you breathe deeply,

Taking in all of the love and joy of the universe with each intake,

Releasing a little bit of the stress and pain with each exhale,

Imagine your soul as an endless stream.

Imagine the flow of your soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge.

 It is flexible, malleable but head strong,

cruising ever southward, home.

As you meditate, ride this well of feelings and information towards your greater, more authentic self.

Know that your emotions are not a distraction.

Your emotions are inherently valid.

Your emotions are data points.

Sorrow is a natural response to a world full of pain.

Anger is a natural response to world full of injustice.

Your joy is necessary and life-giving even in the face of oppression.

Take a deep, loving breath in, letting the air fill your stomach.

Let the air rise and fill your chest.

Exhale slowly into the room.

As you breathe in, let a feeling of love fill your belly.

Marvel at its ability to hold what you need it to hold.

As you let the air rise into your chest, feel the power and beauty of your lungs.

As you exhale out, allow yourself to relax into your beautiful body.

Know that you have a beautiful body.

Know that your body is loved because it is worthy of love.

As you love your body, know that you are so much more than your beautiful body.

Breathe in all of the love of the universe with each breath in.

Let this emotional stream that is your soul wash over you.

Let its brilliance seep into and mix with your brilliance.

Let its genius flow into yours.

Let it carry away your hesitance and your fear.

Let the power of this energy give you permission to be your fullest, most gorgeous self

Let your shoulders relax.

Let your chair or ground or bed support you.

Enjoying the feeling of your body being supported.

Know that you are supported.

As you breathe in all the wisdom and joy the world has to offer,

As you imagine your soul as an endless stream,

Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and reflect on these words:

You are exactly who you need to be.

You emit a queer energy that will transform this world.

When you love yourself you stand in opposition to hate.

When you love others you are committing an act of resistance.

When you are your most authentic self you are standing in your power.

You are transformative. You are powerful. You are Love.

As you breathe, let a sense of hope fill your stomach.

Let it rise as joy into your chest.

Imagine steams of joy flowing into your beautiful body with each breathe out.

As you breathe love deeply through your nostrils,

Let hope fill your belly,

Let joy rise into your chest,

As you exhale, let the love and joy circulate through your body.

As the energy flows through your body feel the power of that love.

Feel the power of creation within your liberated self.

Know that this power and joy is yours.

Breathe in more of the power of this space,

Know that you should never apologize for your existence.

You are exactly who you need to be.

You are connected to a glorious queer future.

Allow the river of power that is your soul to pull you closer to that future.

Feel yourself float in your own power towards your most authentic self.

As you breathe in all the joy of the universe, imagine yourself liberated.

As you breathe out a little bit of the stress and pain, feel yourself getting lighter.

As you breathe in all the power of the universe, feel that power circulate through your body.

As you breathe out a little bit of the trauma and the hesitancy, feel yourself getting stronger.

Repeat the phrases: I am a beautiful and I am loved because I deserve to be loved –until you are centered.

Now allow yourself to come back into your body gently. Reflect on any and all feelings of joy that you experienced. All those feelings of joy to be your north star as continue your journey to Liberation.