Shadowboxing My Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Dewi Oka

Mothering As Revolutionary Praxis

Revolutionary Mothering

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

‘No Man is an Island’

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

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

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

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

Autonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cycle-of-abuse

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

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

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

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

What is Autonomy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Building Autonomy Look Like?

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

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

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

“This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

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

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

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

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

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

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

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

builder and the worker.

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

We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

Homely for Oscar Romero

 

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

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

Where Do We See Autonomy Being Practiced?

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

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

Key Human Technologies for Revolutionary Autonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

black-against-empire

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

What Black Queer Feminism Has Taught Me: Intersectionality, Nurturance Culture and Transformative Relationships

Last week I had the honor of speaking on a panel at American University put on by a coalition of POC student groups. My fellow panelist Zoe Samudzi, a dope Black Queer Womanist based in San Francisco, gave one of the most useful definitions of intersectionality that I have ever heard. While I can’t give her articulation of it justice, the basic idea is that, contrary to mainstream white feminism’s use of the term, intersectionality isn’t just about multiple layers of oppression. It is not a simple listing of privileges and oppressions. Intersectionality means that Black women face a kind of oppression that is a result of capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero-patriarchal re-imaginings of Black Womanhood. To put it another way, one cannot understand the mechanism of misogynoir [the oppression of Black women] by listing the oppression of Black people and the oppression of women and merging the list.

For instance, misogynoir often hyper-masculinizes Black women, robbing them of the protection afforded to the inherently domestic and nationally protected white womanhood but their femme identity robs them of the fear and mythologies of strength that offer Black men some measure of social protection. In essence, this means misogynoir has its own twisted logic that is more than just a mix of patriarchy and white supremacy.

Her brilliance has greatly informed my growing understanding of the term. The most profound moment on the panel for me however, was when Venus Selenite talked about how the idea of intersectionality is often misused to further tokenize multiply-marginalized people. Venus is Black Trans activist and public intellectual who spoke at an event on the murder of Black Trans Women that I helped organize. She stated that she regretted speaking at the rally because it was merely the performance of solidarity. She never even heard of the campaign again after that. All of the promises of follow through never really materialized.

As a main organizer of that event I would have to agree, at least for my involvement in it. It was the performance of solidarity with a lack of follow through that betrayed a lack of actual solidarity with Black Transwomen.

These two opening comments hit me very profoundly. Suddenly, something clicked intellectually that I had been working out in my mind for months. While Venus’ critique did make me uncomfortable, months of internal emotional work as allowed me to understand this discomfort for what it is: a gift. It was a reminder that not only must I do better but that I am capable of better, of more. Rather than “getting all up in my feelings” I took responsibility for my inaction not only publically but internally. I tried, as best as I could, to channel the wisdom of my friend and teacher Elle Hearns, in regards to teachable moments and collaborative solidarity. I explained the reason for my failure, not only to attempt to practice restorative justice and accountability but to illustrate a larger point: making mistakes does not make us mistakes and our failures can be powerful lessons when we hold each in love.

I explained to Venus and the audience how the event, while problematic, helped me recognize that I have a lot of issues with internalized transphobia, especially transmisogynoir [the hatred and oppression of Black Trans Women]. Like any leftist, I felt the political pressure of the moment to be intersectional in my organizing. Yet, because I rarely practice collaborative solidarity with my Black trans siblings, my organizing around trans issues tends to be transactional.

Often times we pretend that our relationships are not transactional when we don’t explicitly ask for anything in return. Under this logic, it is not transactional to provide a “safe space” for Venus to speak her truth. Let’s push aside the false notion that I, as an organizer, actually did the work to make sure the sure the space was safe for Venus. There are many ways in which I used Venus’ story to perform solidarity and prove that I am “down.”

This is not to say that I consciously used Venus to show how intersectional I was. Yet, as I often write about, intent matters much less than we usually say it does. When my friend Elle put out the call for cis Black men to organize an event I jumped at the chance. I wanted to “give back” to all the Black transwomen who had helped me [directly and indirectly] and address this nagging feeling that I had not done enough to help Black transwomen in my organizing. Aside from the paternalism inherent in how I conceived of “giving back,” I don’t think that my desire to answer this call was in itself problematic.

What was problematic was the fact that I conceived of my relationship with Elle and Black Trans people more broadly, in transactional terms i.e. you did something for me so I will do something for you. That is not solidarity. Equally problematic was the tokenism involved in using Elle as a stand in for the broader Trans community which I did not fully realize at the time.
We often think of transactional relationships as entering relationships with a sense of “what do I get out of this?” While this is true, I would argue that a relationship is no less transactional because your “price” is an unnamed favor in the future. I would argue in fact, that a transaction that assumes someone or a community will always fight for you and will continue fighting for you regardless of what happens, is not only transactional but abusive.

As a cis Black male, I can bank on Black Trans women fighting for me, regardless of whether I fight for them. It has never crossed my mind that Elle or Venus would not be on the streets fighting for me. For me to bank of this one sided solidarity and then use it to solidify how “down” and intersectional I am is not only abusive but oppressive in the specific patterns of oppressions that typify transmisogynoir.

Instead of being transactional within my own family, I should have had reciprocal relationships with them. Reciprocal relationships are the only way to have true solidarity. A reciprocal relationships is one based on honest interactions, equitable negations of terms and long term vision. If I had been reciprocal with my relationship with Elle I would have had honest conversations about my capacity and level of understanding and would have had mature, direct loving communications about how involved she wanted to be in the planning. I would have been honest about what I would have gotten out of this campaign and what Elle wanted from the organizers not only for the week but also in our ongoing, evolving relationship.

Instead, due to my insecurity with own organizing ability and trans familiarity and in a rush to perform solidarity instead of embodying it, I ended up stumbling along in the dark. It also meant that I had to rely heavily on the support of Black women like Erika Totten, defeating the intention of call for cis Black men leading the charge. If I had had a long term view of my relationship with my Black trans siblings, I would have thought about how to use the action to create multiple relations with other Black trans people. I would not have simply run into Venus by chance months later.

The Importance of Love in Organizing

This is not to say that my relationship with Elle or my other trans siblings is or was completely abusive and oppressive. However, it is an honest recognition of the fact that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy has breed a culture of lovelessness into ALL of my relationships. It has limited my human ability to feel, practice and reciprocate love. This is a recognition that transactional relationships are not loving relationships.

As Darnell L. Moore’s essay beautiful illustrates: “When we know another loves us, right critique is not treated as wrong and uplift is understood as a collective and not individual endeavor. Love is not violence. And freedom is not lovelessness. And we don’t have the time to not love each other in our present. And if even if we did, time is too expensive to deny another black person the very force that might catalyze their survival.”

This brings me to heart of this essay: what Black Queer Feminism has given to me.

It has given me to the ability to truly love. To love my self. To love my blackness. To love my body. To love my people and show that love in healthy, sustainable ways. It has given me the intellectual tools to understand how I have internalized capitalist, white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchal imaginings of my Black maleness.

As my sister Erika Totten would say, I have internalized the “fight or fuck response” of cis-hetero patriarchy. This fight or fuck response removes much of the nuisance and depth from my relationships. It means that my relationships with men are highly competitive and even joy is expressed through violence whether it is the violence of playing football, or brotherly punches in the arm or in the violence of my language when I am in all male spaces.

With women, the fight or fuck response becomes even more problematic. It has often led me to overly sexualize positive feelings of affinity with women. This has always been in conflict with my rather sex-negative but pro-gender equality upbringing. A conflict that often resulted in discomfort with non-sexual physical touch and sexual repression writ large. There is also something inherently effeminate and sexually suspicious in our society about a man who is constantly surrounded by women he has no intention of fucking. I have dealt with the pressure of this societal suspicion, and the internally questioning of my sexuality that it instilled in me, all my life.

It has only through a 10 year journey of my deepening engagement with sex positive, body positive feminism that I am able to untangle and start to grow past these conflicts. It is only through the intersectionality I was exposed to in the Black Queer Feminism in the Movement for Black Lives [M4BL] that I was able to actually begin to resolve these conflicts.

On Trans Brilliance and Transformative Relationships

This leads me to the second thing that clicked for me in what Venus said on the panel: what I have gained through my on-going journey of identifying, naming and processing my internalized transmisgoynoir.

I realized that the root of my transmigoynoir is my sexual attraction to Black transwomen. Our collective imagining of Black masculinity does not allow for one to be a “real man” while also being attracted to trans women. This is similar, but distinct, from Black male homophobia.

While it is equally true that our collective imagining have little room for Black men loving other Black men, Black transwomen present a unique challenge to narrowly drawn and fragile Black men. It is their inherent femininity that is attractive to me, to us. Yet, in a binary masculinity, attraction to Black trans women either makes a Black man gay or a man unfairly “tricked” by a Black man dressed as a woman. For binary men, this triggers our fight or fuck response which, in a society infected with pervasive rape culture, often leads to violence and murder. This is the reason that so many Black Transwomen died last year.

This attraction, and the cognitive dissonance it created, caused a prolonged sense of discomfort in me. It was only through Elle Hearns and other trans activists’ articulation of #transbrilliance that I was able to resolve it in a healthy, sex and body positive, trans-inclusive way. Again, trans brilliance is an idea that I am not able to give justice. Yet my understanding is that trans brilliance, like the term Black girl magic, refers to the lessons of resilience that communities learn in their resistance to their specific location on the matrix of oppression.

Trans brilliance is the kind of radical solidarity that Sylvia Rivera practiced with STAR [Street Transgender {originally Transvestite} Action Revolutionaries] where she provided housing and economic support to gender non-conforming and gay youth in 60’s San Francisco [among other amazing things]. Trans brilliance is the vibrancy of self-expression and radical, communally based, self confidence that many of our trans sibling exemplify. Trans brilliance is the direct, loving communication that our trans siblings displayed in their demands at the M4BL Convening where they neither demonized the Black community for its transphobia nor allowed oppression to be comfortable around them.

This lesson of Trans brilliance, along with the emotional emancipation work of Erika Totten’s EEC’s, the lessons of Black Queer Feminist dreaming I learned from the work Alexis Pauline Gumbs and the example of my unapologetically Black Queer friends in BYP 100 DC and the Movement for Black Live at large has allowed me to re-envision a non-binary Black maleness for myself. I can dream and embody a Black maleness that is not based on an exclusionary and binary understanding of gender. I can dream and embody a nurturing masculinity that better reflects how I want to interact with the world and how I want to contribute to the movement for my own liberation.

This understanding of the intersectional power and value of trans brilliance and Black girl magic, along with a non-binary understanding of masculinity that grants me access to gender-fluid and masculine nurturing allows me to create and sustain transformative relationships.

The Power of Transformative Relationships in Decentralized Network Based Organizing

 

If transactional relationships are typified by a “what can I get out of this” mentality and reciprocal relationships are typified by a collaborative solidarity informed by honesty, equity and long term vision then transformative relationships are ones that leverage the power of reciprocal relationships to transform spaces and endeavors in ways that improve the freedom, joy, power and self-determination of all parties.

In many ways, the trauma and emergent strategies informed praxis that the M4BL uses is an attempt to operationalize the power of transformative relationships in decentralized networks for broad based social change. We recognize, intuitively, that transformative relationships are revolutionary. They are relationships that allow us to tap into a collective erotic power that allows us to begin to share our need for individual and communal excellence.

Transformative relationships in social movements allow for hundreds of new activist to learn a lifetime worth of political analysis in months by submerging them in constant political analysis and giving them ample opportunity to practice and embody new lessons. Transformative relationship operate from a paradigm of abundance, accountability and love; changing the way we view the world and each other. Transformative relationships allow us to access all of the knowledge we have gleaned from different but interlaced histories of resistance for collaborative power with [as opposed to dominating power over.]

Transformative relationships in organizing encourage us to be fractal or to embody our politics on personal, interpersonal and communal levels. Like all dynamic relationships, transformative relationships foster iterative processes that change as new data or history is added. Transformative relationships are rare and take a great deal of trust and internal work to create and sustain but are immeasurably powerful. This trust and accountability allows for increased flexibility and rapid adaptation around shared values.

As we think about using transformative relationships in the context of social change, it is also crucial to note that power is an inherent aspect of transformative relationships. Our trans siblings, in all their grace and love, did not ask politely for the broader Black community to accept them. Trans organizers and activist have been doing exactly what their titles imply [organizing and acting] to demand cultural change within our community. Elle Hearns and Venus Selenite’s ability to stand in their personal power [both political, intellectual, and spiritual] is a large part of how I learned from them. The narrative and cultural power of Black Queer Feminist like Audre Lorde also added to the power behind their lessons. As did a culture of centering the narratives of the most marginalized community members that infuses the M4BL network.

All of these types of power mixed with the love, support and compassion of how this power [trans brilliance and black girl magic] was used and embodied continuously by those around me to aid me in my personal transformation. As Silvia Federici articulated, power educates. To paraphrase a line from her amazing book “Revolution at Point Zero” first men will fear this power, then they learn from it once capitalism [or patriarchy or white supremacy] learns to fear this power.

As I stated before, it has taken a lot of internal work to see this power as a gift and not a threat. It has taken even more internal work and practice experimenting with and standing in my own power, to learn from this power and attempt to stand with my Trans siblings in it in transformative, accountable and collaborative solidarity. It has also taken a history of organizing through what Amiri Baraka might call “revolutionary theater” to create a counter or queer script for gender that empowers women and non-binary folks.

The intersectional power of transformative relationships are not limited to issues of gender, sex and sexual orientation. In many ways, unapologetic Blackness as a political theme and ratched politics in general are lessons learned by Black upwardly mobile millennials from our working class and poor siblings. I firmly believe that we should expand this thinking to include burgeoning coalitions between POC communities and in our collaborations with white allies.

Transformative Relationships Within the Anti-Racism Movement

Too often, the model of solidarity we use in anti-racism work is based on abusive transactional relationships. Anti-racist solidarity is distinct from other forms of transactional relationships between different communities like services presented as charity or tokenism rampant in the performance of white and POC ally ship. This is both a particularly dehumanizing and ineffective model of solidarity in which the transactional nature of the relationship is obfuscated as a repayment of a historic debt. While White people and other communities that benefit from anti-Black White Supremacy do have a debt that they must pay, that debt is fundamentally not payable by disempowering themselves through some guilt ridden attempt to shift their power over to Black people.

To get free we need more power, not less. We need more leaders not enfeebled followers.

This idea that white people must give up their power is based on a white middle class and masculine limiting belief in scarcity. It presumes that either power is inherently bad [or at least bad in white people’s hands] or that it is a zero sum game. Intersectional transformative relationships teach us that power works in abundance. Just as standing in solidarity with my Black Trans siblings requires me to stand in my own transformative non-binary masculine power, not abdicate it, so too must non-Black people stand in their own transformative power. Yet in order for them to do it, they must first discover it and re-imagine their identities is a way that accepts my existence and my inherent humanity.

If you are afraid of your power or unable to separate your use of it and your identification with it from the dominance of my Black maleness, then you cannot stand in solidarity with me.

Re-framing the Ally Journey

I often talk about how my tendency to gravitate towards femme spaces and people [or perhaps more accurately my aversion to masculine spaces and traumatic history with other men] forced me to learn how to make women comfortable as way to ensure that I could stay in those spaces.

Yet, am I learning that a more accurate way to understand my relationships with women is to say that I have been transformed by my relationships with women. My progressive transformation has allowed me to unlearn the fight or fuck responses that grant me access to my nurturing skills which in turn allow me to build more authentic [and eventually transformative] learning relationships with more and more women.

As I began to learn from and depend on more and more women, I began to change the way I saw myself. This allowed me to respond to the feminine power that drives the M4BL and the history of Black femme resistance that guide it from a place of curiosity and gratitude. This disposition allowed me to learn from the power of women like Omolara Williams McCallister who once gave me one of my favorite compliments when she said “you are very teachable.”

I firmly believe that everyone must go through their own journey to this transformative power and re-imagining of their identities. I believe that Black Queer Feminism provides a poetic road map to complicate and guide this journey. My relationships with powerful women of color like Darakshan Raja, the indomitable co-founder of the Muslim Women’s Policy Forum, as also taught me that each of our identities and communities have powerful lessons to the teach the world that can be accessed through transformative relationships. Our relationship has also taught me that such cross-cultural/class/racial/gender transformative relationships take a great deal of evolving internal emotional work and on-going political analysis building in order to useful for movement building.

This is why I am going to redouble my efforts to explore and embrace my nurturing side; to invest in my personal transformative relationships and guide and nurture other people in doing the same. I what to identify what other self-limiting beliefs that capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy have instilled in me. I want to identify the systems and institutions that teach and re-enforce those lies. I want to stand with everyone willing in collective transformative power to dismantle these systems within ourselves, or communities and society as a whole.

I hope this articulation of my learning journey was as illuminating in your reading as it has been healing in my writing of it. I hope that my friends will continue to hold me in love as I stumble along this path of processing my internalized misogyny and transphobia. I hope that we will all make it to our beloved community, to that land filled with love and abundance before we are through. I hope all of you who know me will allow me to continue loving you and practice my nurturing by nurturing you. I hope you all continue to allow to thank you for all you have given me. I hope all of you in relationship with me continue to teach me how to better to stand in my transformative power. I hope to continue to hold you all accountable to your greatest, most gorgeous, most powerful selves.

 

If this essay sparked some interest in you, read pieces that inspired this essay below:

On the culture of Lovelessness:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darnell-l-moore/you-arent-leader-if-you-dont-love_b_9229394.html

On nurturance culture and building relationships as a male feminist:

The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture
http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/19018

On the Erotic:
http://uk.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/11881_Chapter_5.pdf

Silvia Federici:

http://www.churchland.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Federici-Silvia-Revolution-Point-Zero-Housework-Reproduction-and-Feminist-Struggle.pdf

On dreams and re-imaginings:

http://alexispauline.com/

On ally performance:

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’

On Misogynoir and Transmisogynoir:

On the different types of power:

http://leadershiplearning.org/system/files/Power%20Analysis%20Types%20and%20Sources%20of%20Power.pdf

On White Middle Class Dominant Culture:

http://www.stevebozzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Elements-of-White-Middle-Class-Dominant-Culture.pdf

On Emergent Strategies and Decentralized Movement Organizing:

https://www.alliedmedia.org/esii/resources
http://movementnetlab.org/

Preliminary Observations on the Analysis of the Movement

What is the Analysis of the Movement?

In building my curriculum to both explain the M4BL to the uninitiated and help build a more complex analysis within the movement, I realized that many of the articles I wanted to include had not be written yet. This is a excerpt of a larger piece I’d like to include in the curriculum. It is the part that I am most uncertain about. The larger piece lays out the analysis in a more complex way. This part seeks to situate the emerging analysis of the movement in the context of prominent left ideologies. Any constructive thoughtful feedback is most welcomed.

The Movement has several analyses that are in process of coalescing and synthesizing. We reject the dogmatic and deterministic tendencies in many ideologies of the past while also realizing that the past has much to teach us about the present. Our analysis is based on the principle [to paraphrase Erika Totten] that we should study the past and learn from our elders while leaving that which no longer serves us behind. Our analysis is also not academic even if parts of it were created in various formal and informal academies.

The movements contains adherents of identity politics, queer theory, Marxism, and anarchism. The overriding and unifying analysis of the movement is Anti-Authoritarian Black Queer Feminism. Briefly, Black Queer Feminism is a school of feminist thought centered on the intersectionality of oppressions. To paraphrase prominent Black Queer Feminist Audre Lourde, we cannot have single issue movements because we do not live single issue lives.

It is based on the understanding that race, class and gender are inextricably linked and must be approached as such. It is in contrast to main stream feminism which too often focuses on the experiences and needs of middle class white women.

According to David Halperin “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.”

Black Queer Feminism is as diverse as its adherents and defies neat and tidy definitions.

Our Black Queer Feminism then is, among other things, an understanding of oppression through an intersectional lens that focuses the critique of the current social order from the margins of that order that face the brunt of its brutality. It gives us a tool to have a praxis of collective liberation wherein the leadership of the multiply marginalized communities are centered in a way that ensures no one is left behind. Black Queer Feminism asserts a need for non-normative or highly individualized world views and a cultural relativism that understand both finite objective material realities and infinite subjective experiences of them.

While we take much from all these theories and whole hardly accept the many brilliant iterations of Black Queer Feminism, we reject dogma and any form of determinism. Dogma are sets of principles laid out by an authority figure which are taken to be true and unchanging. Determinism is the belief that demographic information like race, sex, class, gender etc inherently determines our worth, revolutionary potential or place in the movement or society. We believe both of these tendencies are hypocritical and self-limiting.

As proponents of identity politics we readily admit that often times identity politics adherents dismiss individuals based on the groups they are perceived to be a part of. We see this as a counterproductive strategy that is often the result of unprocessed trauma or immature political awareness. We do not believe that identities determine the inherent worth of people nor the validity of their ideas. Likewise, we reject the identity determinism present in much of current Marxism that has a pre-occupation with the proletariat as the only “legitimate” revolutionary class.

Black Queer Women may lead the movement, but the movement is under no naïve assumption that the representation of marginalized groups is all that is needed. Nor is the movement so narrow minded and single focused as the off handedly dismiss the contributions from men, non-Black people of color and white people. Rather, we are merely aware of the historical reality of oppression and the need to address and correct certain trends of domination or submission that are counterproductive to movement building and liberation. Such corrections often seem overly discriminatory to those who are used to relying on systemic inequality to function.

In centering the narratives of the most marginalized we are imagining an expansive politics with multiple focal points where our manifold viewpoints shed more light on issues. This expansive politics wellspring for our call for collective liberation. We believe that Black liberation should work hand in hand in solidarity with indigenous liberation, trans* liberation, women’s liberation, the overthrowing of class society and the liberation of non-Black people of color and poor white people. We believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.

We believe that queer theory and anarchist theory provide some potential fillers of the gaps in thought and practice of both identity politics and the marxist-socialist political spectrum. Queer theory, in our understanding, deals with [among other things] the tension of the unclassifiable individual and social groups divided by systems of oppression and power. It always us to consider both the individual who exist outside of ultimately arbitrary groups and the individual who is profoundly affected by their forced assignment into said groups. Anarchism, in our understanding, provides models and values for how the individual might relate to groups in empowering and effective ways. It helps us understand the processes and dynamics that pull individuals out of relationship with their power and cede it over to external institutions and agents of society.

We believe that despite the sectarian way in which we often discuss these different ideologies, we have witnessed [in the Occupy, Dreamer, and ending sexual assault on campus movements] these ideologies being tested and blended in real time. The same is true for the Black Lives Matter movement. At their best, an understanding of all four allows for the decentralized movement building and centering of marginalized voices in the fights for $15 and housing justice that expand our understandings of these issues in such a way that everyone has skin in the game and can envision pieces of their liberation in the outcome. At their worse, folks go the extreme in one direction and either ending up with post-racialism, racial determinism or with vapid statements like anarchy means I can do whatever I want etc.

The core of our analysis is that systems of oppression like White Supremacy and Patriarchy alienate us from our needs, desires and power. We have become so alienated from these things that our true selves often feel foreign and we find ourselves cast adrift and tormented by the whims and projections of those with more power in our society. We see this alienation as near total. The only place in our lives in which we can be unalienated from ourselves is in what Audre Lorde calls the non-European Consciousness and others might call our sub consciousness or dreams.

We believe in both the power and political necessity of the erotic that Audre Lorde describes. The sensual feeling and desire for excellence is not merely base sentimentality. It is us at our most human. It is a power that drives our analysis. For, without this erotic need to live more human, sensual and fulfilling lives liberation would be middle class, emotional stagnant cis white men’s existence. It is not enough to be materially well cared for and without oppression. We must revolutionize our relationship with the material world.

Yet we are not idealist. We believe that dreams, like our waking thoughts, have a basis in the material world. In fact, we world argue, that our dreams are our hypothetical solutions to contradictions of our society that our bodies urge us to play out through political theater in order to be made real. Political theater is the use of weaponized narratives and perceived power to create real actionable cultural power in society. It is using existing narratives of identity, merit, history, fulfillment etc to propel a specific political agenda.
In essence, we yearn for freedom and therefore assert our right to it and exercise examples of it in ways that dramatize the failure of our present system to give it to us; thereby delegitimizing it.

We yearn for self-determination and therefore assert it through civil disobedience highlighting that our desires and the desire of society writ large are not the same. Chipping away at the perceived power of the status quo opens up the possibility for mass open disagreement and non-compliance and eventually crisis.

In moments of crisis, societies are more likely to choose radical alternatives.
As a non-violent social movement, we aim to use targeted narratives [cultural power] to create a crisis of conscious that results in a massive shift to unalienating alternatives. This is why pre-figurative work and a communally embodied praxis is so crucial.

Cultural power must be parred with the creation of these alternative structures while both are simultaneously utilized to weaken the status quo. This will ensure that they are not only the likely choice in times of crisis but able to handle the crisis effectively and sustainably. This is, essentially, and elaboration of what the Gramscian Marxist might call building counter hegemony. We have to build this counter hegemony, this an alternative to the status quo, while we disrupt and agitate.

 

On Leadership and Storytelling in Building Counter Hegemony

 

Because we are not only organized around class, our counter hegemony must be more than cooperatives and unions. Because we are not organizing merely along race and ethnicity our counter hegemony cannot be separatist or purely cultural. Because we are organizing against state violence our counter hegemony cannot be statist. Because we are organizing against cultural genocide and our use of the erotic powers within ourselves push us for excellence, our counter hegemony must be sustainable and total.

In any mass movement to build counter hegemony, leadership is crucial. When Ella Baker taught us that “strong people don’t need strong leaders” she did not mean that movements don’t need leaders. Rather, she was asserting an essential truth, leadership need not be messianic. Leaders can wield their power together with their followers who are also leaders.

For history tell us that the embodiment of stories is what makes effective visionary leaders. Malcom X preached that the story of Blackness we were told was a lie and he embodied that truth in his clean cut, fiery persona. Martin preached about the Promised Land as the new American dream and the New Negro as a militant solider for justice. He embodied this spiritual militancy in his defiance on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Yet these two men also embodied the messianic Black male leadership that silenced crucial female voices and made it possible for their movements to be nearly destroyed with a few bullets.

From this history we learn that intentional, accountable leadership is crucial for any mass human endeavor and when that leadership is placed in an external institution or embodied in a few spokespeople it is soon alienated from its base and becomes self-limiting. Eventually, “strong leaders” either die, are co-opted or become oppressive themselves.

In order for us to create our counter hegemony with this intersectional analysis, we have to craft a radically new story of who were are, how we came to be and where we are heading. This story must emerge from networks of shared communal praxis and be embodied. This is why the revolutionary political theater of the movement for Black Lives is so crucial.

Unapologetic Blackness is a tool that is both liberatory in the erotic sense and forces [as Ta-Nehisi Coates might say] people who imagine themselves to be white and the system that creates them to enter into political dialogue with us on our own equal terms. As Amiri Baraka taught us, we must destroy their logic of professionalism [which is merely code for white middle class male standards] with the illogic of #BlackGirlMagic [which is a complex syntax of the dark transformative power that our veil gives those who survive a system that was meant to kill them.]

Unapologetic Blackness is but one piece of what might otherwise be called conscious militancy. The same addiction to standing in our own power that Black Brunchers feel in Brooklyn is felt by the Black women leading the labor movement into a new era in the $15 battles across the country. This revolutionary theater is not mere radical posturing [though it must be noted that some of its most photographed practitioners may make it appear so] it’s a class [or perhaps subaltern] consciousness that has reached a new level of maturity. To truly stand in your power is a deeply erotic exercise, to merely posture for the new era of social media activism is merely movement porn.

This class conscious militancy is being created in trauma informed healing spaces like Emotional Emancipation Circle and Black Joy Sunday that give the movement its emotional vitality and sustainability. In national gatherings like the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland, these different aspects of Black militancy are mixing and a revolutionary praxis is emerging.

As this nascent praxis of trauma informed unapologetic Black Feminist militancy is developed through larger and larger actions and informed by more fully articulated ideologies like generative somatics, emergent strategies and the aforementioned Marxism, anarchism and idenitarianism a more complicated story of not only Blackness but humanity writ large is being articulated and embodied, though admittedly haphazardly.

The Movement for Black Lives is the raising the bar for America as a nation and a community of individuals. It is telling a story not of unfinished pyramids of exceptionalism but resistance in the face of multiple genocides. It is story of diverse characters whose wants and desires are beyond our ability to articulate but deeply and viscerally felt.

Characters who realize that they can write their own stories. Characterize who realize they are the subjects of their own histories. Characters who will no longer stand for politicians that don’t speak to their issues. Characters who will no longer tolerate unions that refuse to represent them or bosses who refuse to let them be represented. Heroines with bodies in infinite permutations who want Paid Family Leave, an end to rape culture and for their children to be safe walking home from schools that love and support them as well as educate.

Most importantly, the movement is learning and forever on its growing edge. It exists, in its totality, in that uncomfortable realm between what we know to be true and what we believe to be true. It exists in the fertile space that explorers enter when they attempt something that has never been done before. Our counter hegemony is being crafted to support and sustain this communal unappogetically Black performance. It’s the communal dinners, cooperative housing, vibrant communities and solidarity unions we create to allow us to better engage in this dance.

Our new more livable world will be birthed by the vestiges of this movement. We will tell our children the story of this movement just like we tell our parents and our neighbors. Once they understand this story and own it and become active participants in its creation, they will help lead us further on the path towards liberation.

Femminist Reflections on My Spritual Sabbatical pt 3

Headed Towards the Light: An Itinerant Cartographers Unfinished Guide to the Poetics of the Movement for Black Lives.

My thoughts coalesce in long walks.

I take long, slow and steady strolls throughout the city examining the network of disparate thoughts that float through my mind. Each step makes a critical connection. Each street corner reminds me of another data point. My mind elongates in tandem with my strides, expanding to compute a thousand daily concerns and musing.

Over the past month I have walked through several valleys of understanding. I’ve taken a really long and hard look at how I’ve been operating over the past year. At first, it was difficult even to focus on it all. Every action, speech, rally and interaction with police was blurred together in one side splitting mental imprint of stress, anxiety, hope, rage and fear.

As I strolled through city blocks in DC and Brooklyn, I unpacked these dense imprints to examine the impact this year had on me. As I unpacked them, I could feel myself decompress and a weight slowly begin to lift off my shoulders. Unencumbered by these chains of constant anxiety I saw a bit of my former self start to return.

I began to remember how much I enjoy playing the dozens with friends and family. I remembered how calm I used to feel before the hurricane of constant organizing. I began to be able to appreciate, for the first time in a long time, how truly wonderful, amazing and beyond my wildest dreams this past year had been.

Despite the pain and agony of constantly reacting to another death, another sign that we are not meant to survive this system, I realized that I have been blessed with a wonderful, radical and radically supportive community. I have been blessed with an increased faith in my abilities and decreased need to prove my worth. I have been blessed with a spiritual awareness of the world and my place in it. I have become more acquainted with my internal power and more comfortable standing in it.

With each step, I was able to gain more and more of this perspective and more and more weight fell off my shoulders. Yet something has been missing. There has been an almost indiscernible feeling of internal lacking, of waiting from something to enter my life and complete my sabbatical.

I realize that I’ve been waiting, somewhat foolishly, for my old self to return. Yet the more I reflect, the more I realize that he no longer exists. Part of him grew up over the past two years and part of him was buried in Baltimore. In his place is n older, more patient, more jaded and more self-aware blend of echoes of my father and the person I was as a kid.

______________________________________________________

Walking is one of the few things that can slow the torrent of coupled thoughts that often race through my mind. It is one of the few forms of meditation that brings me to the particular sort of calm in which I feel the most myself. It is a reflective, active calm like the mind of an athlete ready to jump. Even though the blood begins to rush into my hands in anticipation, unlike an athlete, my movements are entirely metaphoric.

It is perhaps ironic then that after my walks I could not describe to you much of what I saw nor could I give you directions to where I went. I have no mind for mundane details. I remember only the slight details a painter might use to accent a work or the descending notes a composer uses to let you know the piece was ending. I tend to only remember the details useful for storytelling.

It might then be even more ironic that I have come to think of myself as a verbal cartographer. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you how to get from point A to B but I could describe, illustratively and in exquisite detail what the journey will feel like. I could point out to you, if you were interested, the history of significant ruins you might encounter along the way. I would end each map with a key explaining why the journey is so viscerally important. Yet I’m very bad at directing folks to where I feel they should go because it assumes a specific singular destination.

I think this is why I prefer poetry to prose.
It’s easier.
A rarity of words,
Increases impact.

Like a lover,
leaving the ring on the counter,
in lieu papers;
communicating more in questions begged,
than answers given.

But I digress.

I have, over the past year, developed more interest in complicating journeys than prescribing destinations. Perhaps it’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a begrudging humility. Likely it’s all three. Either way, I’m more interested in poetry than prose.

“I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.”
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

In another life I would have been a cartographer.

I can see myself devouring the latest missives from the “new world.” Immediately incorporating them in my maps. The outlines of coasts getting more and more accurate as times goes on. The descriptions of the people and culture getting more vivid and useful.

But the edges of the map, of the known world, would always be illustrated with the myths I felt to be true. The gryphons of the cold wintery north, dragons of the distance east, the giants that laid waste to the northern desserts. Over time we will discover the eagles, the alligators, the massive blue whales and giant squids that looked like krakens and myth will turn into science and we will pretend that we understand the world.

These are the many tensions in my soul. The observed and the felt. The diagram and the dreamscape. Different understandings fueled by a desire to know and explore, driven by the most ardent curiosity. A deep sense of the world in its totality but lack of understanding.
Of it’s beauty.
Its wonder.
It’s terror.
It’s Poetics.
Dialectical, symmetrically assembled choreography of masses, forces and networks of consciousness that I feel a deep, ethereal connection to.

I will forever be in debt to writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs  for giving me language to explore and illustrate the edges of the map. I will be in debt to thinkers and spiritualists like Erika Totten and Omolara Williams McCallister for reminding me that there are many levels and kinds of understanding and multiple dimensions on which to know a thing. It is debt shared by all the Black Queer Feminist in my life whose power and energy inspire me, especially my sisters who taught me how to dream.

This is all to say, after a month long spiritual sabbatical, I wish to share with you a map of the edge of my understanding. I wish to illustrate, in the best medium I have available to me [poetics], the uncharted territory that my movement family and I have been exploring in the past year in the Movement for Black Lives.

A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:

The topography is vigorous,
A land of dynamic forces.
Energies that are both waves and particles:
ideas,
impulses,
neurons firing in our brains
and chemical reactions to historical, economic, existential and social stimulants.
There are forces of beauty and wonder,
forces of oppression and human limitation.
There is bondage and emancipation.
Growth and decay.
Blossoming and withering.

These forces etch themselves unto the landscape of human experience, craving systems of opposition, obstacles to forward paths and valleys of understanding.

The west side of the map is our past: clouded in the fog of war, myth and dogma.

In the middle lies our present: dense, humid and warming.

Towards the east is our unknowable future: shrouded in mystery and wrapped in anticipation.

To the north is the observable world of facts and figures and

in the south lies the equally true world of dreams, feelings, imaginations, the science of living and other knowings.

 

Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.

“The man who knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” Erykah Badu – On and On

 

As we travel towards liberation, we must ensure we are equipped for the journey. It is a rough road for the ill-prepared. We could not climb the mountains of true understanding without collecting the theory and analysis of the north and weaving them into the dreams and internal knowings of the south. Unfortunately, our species is not yet equipped to walk a straight path towards liberation. It will be meandering journey of starts and stutters.

On the frayed edges of the map are the metaphysical oceans where the forces of the land coalesce and pool. The rocky bays that connect these rivers of forces to the oceans of power filter out the impurities of domination, hierarchy, and inequity. Still, the depths of these oceans are dangerous to the unpracticed swimmer. The call of God is a siren to the unlearned ear, pulling you into these jagged rocks and in these oceans lay a terrifyingly transformative power.

Notes on the oceans of power:

From my travels in the south, I learned to bottle my dreams so that I can access this power. I see my sisters access it at protests. I drink from it nightly and feel it overwhelm me when I speak truth to the world. I sense is flow through me as my mind flows unto the page.
I intuit that this emotional energy, this transformative power, has the capacity to shatter this land.

I can access it at any time.

Sometimes, when I allow myself to access this power, shutting down highways, testifying in the Wilson building as knowledge coalesces effortlessly in my mind and flows freely from my lips; I think that the power is right when it suggests that I should break the world.

 

I am terrified, infatuated and addicted to this embodied power.

  • My movement family and I access this power together.
  • Collectively we both heighten it and hold it accountable.
  • I believe that this power is our salvation.
  • I have recognized this power as my birthright.
  • I have invited you, before I was even aware of what it was, to drink from my dreams and stand in this power with me.

 

 

“I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror of the lives we are living. Social protest is saying that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, and we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will find the germ of our answers to bring about change. Because once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, “Why don’t they?” And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change.

So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

“Audre Lorde.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. NY: Continuum, 1983. 100-16.

The Movement for Black Lives is not asking for special treatment for Black people. Nor are we only asking for our needs to finally be meet after centuries of erasure or myths of pathology.

Rather, activists are returning from the edges of the known world, pointing out the holes in the dominate logics and inviting the world to stand with us in the light that shines through. We are shouting to you that this light is proof that this world is under ground, buried beneath a capitalist system of dominance maintained by patriarchy and white supremacy.

The movement for Black Lives is reminding all of us that we need to head SE towards liberation.

Years of being underground, submerged in this system, has dimmed many of our faculties while studying our surroundings [even in dimness] has brightened others. Yet all told, we have lived only in the north for far too long. We have become stagnant in our civilizations, forgotten our migratory nature and carved out pieces of the earth.

As if we could own it.

As if it didn’t own us.

We have lost much of the accumulated wisdom of the south. We have forgotten about how to be, to live in harmony with our selves, to seek to learn from the world without destroying it.

The M4BL is asserting that the particular position of Black people [especially Working Class Black Queer Women] in the system and the history invasions that forced us to flee periodically to the south gives us the second sight to help guide humanity out of the darkness and into the light.

We are giving you fair warning before we drag this whole system, amid its suffocating totality, into the above ground world we have been forced out of and almost forgotten.

We do not believe that when we return to the light we will return to a previous way of life. We are futurist not primitivists. We have chosen to be Diasporic Cosmonauts not earthly refugees. What is past is prologue, it needn’t be destiny nor our chosen destination. We believe that once in the light we must still journey east towards liberation, onwards to a new world that is better than we have ever experienced or can currently imagine.

The Movement for Black Lives believes in the fundamental ability of our imaginations and dreams to store and share transformative power. The power that we need to overcome the totality of capitalism and logics of dominance. The same power we will need to climb the mountains of true understanding.

 

We, beautifully flawed humans that can neither tolerate a world order that, in thinking we are worthy of its oppression, is beneath us nor wait idly by as it consumes itself, are headed towards the lands filled with the glorious black light of the power contained in the ocean of human imagination. We will not merely content ourselves to observe the effects of its absence.

Ours is a long march of trials, falters, tribulations, celebrations and lessons.

We are unlearning that all struggle must be painful and that all pain is wasteful. We are relearning the elation of change, the euphoria of spiritual endorphins that comes from exercising new muscles of self-determination.

Our wanderings in the south have taught us to embody old stories in new ways. We have become updaters and remixers not needless iconoclasts. We are Christ like in our imperfect divinity and utilizing of love, Mohammedan in our submission to the divine and commitment to study and like Moses we lead the captive, sometimes too content to settle near the lands of the pharaoh, on the long march to emancipation.

We are workers building class consciousness and harnessing the science of revolution in a new economy. Mothers who are also teachers and nurses smashing the patriarchy and midwives birthing a gender fluid world. We are the Ebony skinned neo-abolitionists delivering the supersedants to zion. We are anarchist fighting against the alienation of our transformative power. All while being queer as fuck and refusing to let these histories, texts or identities define us.

If this way of being destroys your idols it is collateral damages of a fluid world in motion.

Notes on the Underground Landscape:

“Alienation is the gap between desire and what is socially valued, between our potential to transform the world and the theft and parasitic use of that power by capital and the state.” Anonymous

 

 

Capitalism became total, and blotted out the sun, when it began selling us deficits instead of just commodities. We now have a culture of deficits and inflated spiritual debts. We are too ugly. Too Black. Too poor. Too femme. Too foreign. Or too queer to fit in. We must work, buy, sell and scrape to get closer to an unattainable able-bodied, symmetric, fit, white, wealthy, male ideal citizen.

What we have is a global system of perverted forces that create false scarcities and deficits before providing draining resources we are told will solve them. It is as if we are desert people living in a glorious oasis but being sold salt water and taught that to live is to hydrate.

The long buried truth is that the vocation of all humans is to live fully and in communion with their needs and shared desires. We are the intellectually nomadic bards of our own histories and songs, living well in order to share our stories with each other. The fullness to which we aspire is a facet of our species’ current and progressing social and economic development which in turn shapes our desires.

Yet we are told that in order to live we must work and observe and buy.

 

We are told what we must do in order to be.

The options given to us in the cold calculating north, these shadow life vocations, constantly place us under the control of others but out of relationship with ourselves and each other. Most revolutionary ethos in the west merely seek to change the ruling class without changeling the idea of ruling. Others merely put forth hollow and solitary images of individual self-determination.

Our journeys southland, to our dreams, have taught us that instead we must reframe our whole realm of living. We must stop wasting our spiritual energy tweaking the details of our alienation from our true vocation–cultivating a land we were never meant to settle in–so that we no longer have any opinions on its totality.

 

“In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.” Basic Banalities — Raoul Vaneigem

 

Yet our goal cannot be as narrow as ending capitalism. This map leads to liberation, not merely away from our past. While this global society serves our bosses more than us and they exhibit more control over it, the system does not really serve them either. The same way that proximity to power is not power, having the system geared towards you does not mean it fulfills you. It does not allow the wealthy to fulfill their full vocation. Their true vocation is not power. Yet their options are limited by their determined gaze at their feet on our backs.

They are merely favored captives chained by their fathers and forced to stare at shadows of the forms on the walls of the cave; convinced that it’s not prison because they have box seats. The same gaslights they use to tell us that America is not a prison because we have cable in here.

The same can be said of emotionally stunted men and emotionally fragile whites too chained to their positions above those they oppress to run freely and gaily southeasterly towards their true vocations.

This does not absolve them [or us] of their [or our] complicity, it merely goes to show us that switching positions with them or raising everyone to their standard [as if this would even be possible without destroying the very system that enshrines and maintains that standard] is not a solution.

Reform is not revolution.

Equity is not liberation.

Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:

There is no one path to Liberation. The straight course from our current position to liberation is perilous and we are not equipped to take it.

We must use the analysis of the north to identify the systems of oppression that alienate us from our true vocation. We must use the dream materials of the south to dismantle them and create space for our evolving work that approaches authentic fulfilling human vocation. We must synthesis the techniques of the north and south to heal ourselves and our communities in order to clear our collective imaginations of the miasma of oppression and fog of trauma that clouds our vision. We must work together to build a new world aligned with our new vision in the shell of the old world we are dismantling. All of this must happen at once.

Yet this work does not happen in a vacuum. In order to work collectively we must address the systems of oppression; white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, which has thwarted journeys in the past. This path is hard and healing will consistently be needed. The way forward is dark and we will need our theory to guide the way, our historical experience and the wisdom of our ancestries will guide us through forks in the road. We must develop spiritual practices and spiritual farms [beloved communities] that will feed us as we crawl through the darkness headed towards the light.

This is the unfinished map of the Movement for Black Lives. It is for this vision we are dragging our society kicking and screaming through the darkness and into the light. We may stumble, we may falter, we may get lost but we are committed to our task.

We fight even for those you would not fight for us. We fight even for those who would stand against us. While powerful, we are not large enough to hold this society on our backs without dropping or fragmenting parts. We cannot hold enough of it in our consciousness to ensure that precious parts of it are not forgotten. So those of you who share these visions, dreams and analyses must carry your load of the world with us.

  • Only collective liberation is strong enough to carry all of society into the light without tearing it asunder.
  • Only collective liberation can provide enough guidance to show us the way to the light, without it we can only fight against the darkness unsure if we are headed up or down.
  • Only collective liberation can plant the spiritual fruits complex enough to feed the army of sojourners needed to bring this society into the light. And only in the light and we build the true world.
  • Only in the light can we see and be our true selves.

So I invite you to drink from this cup of dreams, to stand in this power with me.

Together we shall create a revolutionary communal praxis able to wield our new analytical dreamscapes through story and song, organizing and building, through destruction and creation and ultimately: rebirth.

Feminist Reflections on my Spiritual Sabbatical

As I think about my role as a prominent leader in the Movement for Black Lives in DC and recognize the ways that masculinity and middle class dominate cultural values have biased by leadership, I am excited by the possibilities that feminism has to offer me. As I have forced myself to take some time to think about the emotional and spiritual toll this work has had on me, I am over joyed at the possibility for a reprieve. That is why I will be taking a spiritual sabbatical in the month of December.

It is unclear to me what this will look like exactly. What I have decided on is that I will be doing much much less work for the Movement for Black Lives in December. I will take time to rest, heal, reflect and learn from my community and the universe as I can. I will take the time to gain perspective and clarify my vision for myself, my community and the world. I will try to re-learn the truth that I am loved because I deserve to be loved and that I deserve to be loved because of who I am and not what I do.

In preparation for this sabbatical, I have taken to reading materials that might change my perspective on the world and give me the tools to grow and evolve in the movement.

One of the many books I am currently reading is Silvia Federici’s “Revolutions at Point Zero: House Work, Reproduction and the Feminist Struggle.” It is blowing my mind. Her perspective on the history of the feminist labor struggle and keen observations of the historic connections of the Feminist Movement in America following the Black Liberation movement seem to have important implications for the Movement for Black Lives.

BLM often talks about “re-claiming space” and understanding the spiritual importance of Black space. Her writings have me considering the economic and political ramifications of owning and controlling space separate from owning property. As I investigate what autonomy means and looks like through a Black Queer Feminist lens I am reminded of a conversation I had with Erika Totten about what I felt my role in the movement should be.

What does it mean to provide leadership as a Black man in the Movement for Black Lives? What does supporting Black women and recognizing their unique role as the engines of American history mean in practice? I think Federici’s work, coupled with authors I am more familiar with like Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, points towards a re-investment and valorization of housework by Black men such as myself.

By re-investing in “house work” [broadly defined as community sustaining activities like childcare, elder care, cooking, emotional labor, mutli-generational narrative creation and healing work] we free up women and gender-non-conforming folx to do the strategic organizing and movement work that their places on the spectrum on various oppressions give them the unique perspective the lead on.

Equally important, we provide ourselves the opportunity to emancipate our minds and spirits from the limiting chains of masculinity. The “home,” broadly defined, is the perfect space for Black men to re-invent or deconstruct or dismantle the poisonous aspects of Black masculinity in ways that both support our non-male siblings and shelters us from the daily emasculations of capitalism and white supremacy.

I have come to realize that the disempowerment that Black men feel in our daily emasculations in a capitalist and white supremacist society is the destructive fuel of Black patriarchy. We are so often disempowered in our daily existence that we reach for power in the only system in which we have it. In a sense, our oppression creates a series of voids in our psyches and spirits that we try to fill in with power and commercial validation. I am beginning to see an opportunity for us to escape this feedback loop of disempowerment by oppression followed by reinvestment in our oppression through the home.

How empowering would if feel to Black men to get our sense of human validation from emotionally supporting our families [broadly defined] rather than anxiously trying to game a system founded in our bondage in order to support them financially? Imagine what our communities might look like if we supported Black women and Black gender-non-conforming folx in transforming leadership and the workplace as Black men and gender-non-conforming folx transform the home?

As a lifelong admirer of Black girl magic and strong believer in the inherent artifice of all our identities I am excited about the afro-futurist possibilities of such an endeavor. Might we discover, through putting our Black queer feminist lens into practice, Black boy sorcery and gender-non-conforming alchemy? Might trans* brilliance an Black girl magic reach its fullest expressions of power if Black men invest in the home? Might we all find more added capacity if, understanding that ideas of the scarcity of leadership is a figment of the middle class white imagination, we step back from our positions of power over to make more room to step into our power together?

These are the things I will be exploring on my sabbatical. In glimpsing these possibilities and writing them out they feel more real to me already. I appreciate all of you who I know will support me in this month of healing and growth. I am honored by the talent and leadership of those who have stepped into power with me as I stepped back from power over certain projects. It has confirmed to me, more than anything else: that I am beautiful, I am not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

New Meditation for #BlackJoySundays

Shaloin

Black Joy is a transformative force. It is a visceral, deeply embodied reminder of the precious euphoria of our humanity. It is the source of Black resilience which is itself the wellspring of Black Liberation.

‪#‎BlackJoySundays‬ are a supportive place we can be affirmed in our Blackness, fellowship with other gorgeous Black people and discuss some of the racial stress we experience. Yet above all, it is space where we cultivate a shared sense of Black joy.

This is a space for Black people, which means ALL Black people.

So make sure to bring your love for Black Women, Black People facing homelessness, Black Trans* Folk, Black Youth, Black Muslims, Black Queer Folk, Black Jews, Black Men, Black Gender Non-Conforming Folk, Black Elders, Black people thriving with disabilities [seen and unseen], and All Black Everythang!

We are a diverse diaspora and all our loves are unique. All that love will be put to good use this afternoon!!

Please closes your eyes, sit up straight and reflect on these words.

Honor all of your emotions in this space. And let your thoughts flow to warmer, more supportive waters.

My soul is an endless stream. Deep, dark waters of power and understanding flow through me. The flow of my soul is a powerful torrent of emotion and knowledge. It is flexible, malleable but head strong, cruising ever southward, home.

When I meditate, I ride this well of feelings and information towards my greater, more authentic self. Through action and community I have learned that my stream is a mere tributary, flowing and twisting and turning in tandem with others. Through action and community I can draw on the streams of understanding and emotional power of those I am in community with.

Through a cycle of action, communion and reflection my community is developing a revolutionary praxis that allows our streams to coalesce into rivers of transformative change. We carve canyons in the sides of mountains of oppression. We leave beyond gorgeous sandstones paintings of transformations on the walls of the mountains that used to keep us in a spiritual valley.

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

You are a being on the path to liberation.

Your community marches for liberation alongside you.

You are resilient. You are powerful. You are bold.

You are loved because you deserve to be loved.

You love because you know your love can transform the world.

You must set yourself and your people on a path towards the light,
Do not merely set yourself against the darkness.

Seek out a joy that radiates from your bones and lights up the whole world.

As a Black feminist freedom fighter you must work to reclaim the erotic.

Let yourself enjoy the sacred pleasures of boundless joy and communal optimism.

Find, accept and foster that part of you that seeks Black excellence.

Temper your sorrow with the sound of the laughter, the feeling of a warm embrace, the taste of cornbread, the smell of shea butter and the sight of melanin.

Know that you are beautiful, you are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black women are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black trans women are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black people facing homelessness are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black youth are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black elders are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black men are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black returning citizens are beautiful, they are not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

Black queer folk are beautiful, they are not alone and collectively we are powerful beyond measure.

As Black feminist freedom fighter you know that self care is a revolutionary act.

It is your duty to fight for freedom by any gorgeous, elated, joyfull, double-dutching, dozens playing, singing or otherwise melanin infused means necessarily.

Liberation is a type of collective emergence.

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 breather in all the love of the universe, imagine the gorgeous revolutionary this movement is making you

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

As you breathe in all the happiness of the universe, feel liberation growing inside you

As you breathe out more of the hesitancy, imagine yourself releasing your own sense of liberation with this community

As you breathe in more of the Black Joy of this space, repeat the phrase:

I am beautiful, I am not alone, and collectively we are powerful beyond measure

until you are centered.

Call Me in Until You Need to Call Me Out

Reflections On Being A Leader in a Leaderful Movement

 

Rape Culture is real. It is omnipresent. It is destroying all of our movements.

I don’t know how to start this essay. I don’t really know what to say or how to say it so I’m going to be real and raw and honest. I am a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement here in DC, which is a movement for the liberation of ALL Black People and a necessary but insufficient piece of a larger movement for collective liberation. I am leader whose followers are also leaders. I am leader who often has no clue what he is doing but decides to put himself out there because he knows that the work needs doing. I organize within a social network that is a web of mutual support, Black excellence, gorgeous righteousness and, let’s be real, shared trauma.

I organize for the liberation of my people all while suffering from the post-traumatic stress of having existed for 26 years as a sensitive human being in an insensitive world. I have been Black in society that can’t recognize the humanity of Black people. I have been struggling with mental illness in a world that would rather profit of my suffering than talk about it. I have come to terms with my attraction to all genders, including my own, in a world in which that means I cannot be seen as fully Black, really a man or completely human. All of this trauma infuses every decision I make as an organizer, as a follower and as a leader whose followers are also bomb ass, revolutionary leaders.

I say that, because it needs to be said. In the next few days I imagine a lot a of conversations will be happening about who will work with who and how people should have handled beef. I imagine a lot of people will have opinions about who did and didn’t say what where. We need to remember that we all are working through our trauma in real time. We need to realize that it is unacceptable to be traumatizing people through patriarchy in liberation struggles. We need to remember that there is a time to call people in and there is a time to call people out.

To many women have spoken to me about a desperate need to hold men in leadership in DC accountable for me to remain silent.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

I don’t remember where I was when Mike Brown was lying on the ground for 4 and half hours. I don’t remember when I first realized that I was watching the public lynching of a Black boy on television every time I watched cable news talk about the “thug” “Big Mike.” I don’t remember when I realized that the Black Lives Matter Movement was giving birth to my generation’s Black Liberation Movement.

I do remember the feeling of needing to do something, anything, after Darrin Wilson was not indicted for the execution of Michael Brown. I remember the feeling of anguish that led me to start writing nearly daily on race, racism and white supremacy after seeing how white allies showed up in spaces. I also remember when Black women leaders inspired me to get off my blog and hit the streets

I remember when my now good friend Lydia and I met at an action she planned. I remember being grateful that she brought the movement to my city. I remember talking a long lunch to interview Erika Totten and Dominique Hazzard at a day of action in November. I remember hearing Erika say that she couldn’t not get into this fight. I remember them inspiring me to get off this blog and into the streets.

Once I was in the streets I remember a shared sense of organizers not really knowing what they were doing. This is not to say that people didn’t have skills, or talents or expertise. This meant that people were angry, and traumatized and were making plans as we were executing them. I remember showing up to actions and people asking me to pitch in. I remember when I decided to be an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement because there was shit I wanted to be happening that just wasn’t.

There were a couple of months that I was organizing around Black Lives Matter but I didn’t consider myself a leader. I would read about the next shooting, the next beating, the next sex trafficking police officer in 7D and spend hours on Facebook looking for the event that addressed it. When it didn’t happen, I would send out e-mails to all the “real leaders” and wait for a response, wait for someone to step up and let me follow them. As the other organizers got busier, and replies started to be, yeah, you should do that! That’s when I started to think about leadership.

There was point at which it became clear that other people already saw me as a leader. It took a while for me to take the mantle as my own though. Leadership comes with a number of benefits, mainly that I get the unique pleasure of actualizing my plans and thoughts. I get to see my own plans for liberation come into being bit by bit. I get to see people move. Not just bodies on the street but minds and souls be moved by my action and writing. It is an amazing feeling. Yet leadership, true leadership like the kind this movement needs, comes with responsibility and accountability.

The weight of that responsibility grew steadily as it became more and more apparent that people expected things of me. People looked to me plan actions. People looked to me to say those hard truths that needed saying. People started saying things like, I came out because you asked me. I felt proud but also scared, unworthy and incapable of seeing in myself what others saw in me.

I remember the point at which the responsibility of leadership felt the most visceral. I had called a meeting to plan an anti-misogyny training at my house and invited my people. The people who I’m in the movement for, the people’s whose welfare makes me work to end patriarchy. Most importantly, the people I grown been accustomed to schooling me on what’s what.

I remember opening the conversation with my vision for the training and having multiple dynamite, power houses of local organizing gently push back by saying “I’m here because this work needs to get done, and I trust Aaron to hold this space.” That level of trust hit me hard. It was both an unexpected honor and, to be honest, terrifying. It was frightening because I had little faith in my ability to hold a space that honored the humanity, dignity and brilliance of the women in the room when facilitating a conversation about patriarchy.

The truth is, sexism is real and embedded in the very fabric of our society. It is foundational to how we think about leadership, self-worth, and movement building. In my mind, I too was too influenced by our sexist culture to rid the spaces I was creating of its taint.

In talking with those women, I realized that every time I hold a space the attendees have to make a decision. The women I invite have to make a decision about whether or not they trust me and the men I choose to surround myself with to create a space where they feel safe.

As a leader I cannot forget about that choice. I cannot take the easy way out and operate my meetings, my marches, my healing spaces within the oppressive atmosphere of a demented status quo. I cannot choose personal loyalty over liberation. I cannot duck out of the responsibility of leadership because silence is easier than speaking out. I cannot betray the trust of the women who continually teach me how to recognize my own humanity. That trust is important and not given lightly. That trust must be earned and re-earned constantly. Most importantly, it is not to be abused.

Sadly, far too often it is.

Far too often whole sections and scenes within movements are physically, emotionally and spiritual dangerous to women. Too often women have navigate those same uncontainable impulses to do something, anything to end their current oppression with the added burden of deciding, not whether, but how much abuse and misogyny they will endure to do so. That is sickening.

That simple fact outlines the limit of how far any movement for liberation can go without naming, addressing and ending patriarchy within the movement. Black liberation can’t move an inch past the bonds that men force on women.

Men must do more. Black men must do more. The male leadership of the leaderful Black Lives Matter Movement must do more. I must do more. We must do more.

We must transform our spaces to be the reflections of the liberation we are seeking. We must hold the men we surround ourselves accountable to our shared vision of world in which our neighbors, co-workers, sisters, mothers and daughters can be their full, beautiful, Black, female and gender non-conforming authentic selves without fear of violence. We must hold men accountable to holding spaces that do not enable, praise, or excuse rape.
Those of us who have decided that this moment is our time; those of us who have chosen to be leaders in the movement for Black liberation; those of us who strive for a world in which the overwhelming brilliance of Black people is allowed to thrive and flourish, must hold ourselves accountable to ending patriarchy.

Rape culture is too acidic to liberation to be tolerated. Sexual predation is too counter-revolutionary to be tolerated. Our collective silence, my own reservations about ruffling feathers and stepping on toes, is too violent to be tolerated. We must call each other in, until we need to start calling each other out.

I am not writing this as a model for how to be a man in the movement. I am writing this as someone who fucks up. I am writing this as someone who was silent for too long. I am writing this as someone who has to constantly apologize for how I show up in spaces. I am writing this as someone who wants all the amazing women I often follow and who sometimes follow me, to call me in until you need to call me out.

To all the men that are reading this we have to do better. We have to stop allowing men to prey on women in our spaces. We have to stop interrupting women on the mic. We have to stop defending rapist because they once were a role model to us. We have to stop shaming women for speaking their truth. We have to stop refusing to put in work for the women’s liberation movement. We have to re-imagine our conceptions of masculinity, sexuality and gender. We have to check our internal transmisogynoir.We have to step way back and remember to come forward when our support is needed.

If you have questions, concerns or push back please reach out to me. We need to come together to end rape culture. We need to leverage our power to create beloved communities and liberated spaces. We need to start crafting and implementing solutions. There have been a few conversations and events on ending patriarchy and redefining masculinity so far and hopefully there will be many more to come. Please find me on Facebook or e-mail me at wellexaminedlife@gmail.com if you are interested in joining me and other men to end rape culture.