I’ve seen too many posts implying that opening up the economy/getting back to work is simply an effort to boost the profits of the rich. Invariably, these posts come from folks on “the left.”
I won’t debate the truth in that claim, but if this is all that gets posted, seen, shared, communicated, then no wonder that many folks who don’t have the relative “luxury” of working from home, who are weighing the differences between food, housing, medicine, etc, get turned off. For many people, the need/desire to get back to work is about survival, and probably on another level, about self respect. We ignore this at our own peril.
Certainly, there are important questions that we should be asking about what is and should be normal, and I know many people, also on the “left” who are asking those questions and really doing the work.
Let’s not obscure that and push people to the right with a meme or post that’s too glib by half.
In a properly civilized world, we would view this pandemic as nothing but a reminder of our interconnectedness to nature, a reminder that we are part of, but not above, nature.
We would treat this time as a time to pause, retreat, reflect, be with those we love, tend to those we care about.
But our world is not civilized, so instead, we are thrown into panic, anxiety, and despair, worried about making it through the month in the blind hope that next month things will return to “normal,” all the while forgetting that our date with finitude is the normal we forever try to suppress.
Many people are currently becoming more accepting of the reality that there’s something very, very wrong with our way of life. Declarations such as “humans are the virus!” are indeed misguided, but I would caution against knee-jerk accusations of eco-fascism. Of course, fascists utilizing ecological realities to forward their agendas will likely make use of such rhetoric (or more likely, point blame at groups of “undesirables” such as migrants or BIPOC), but many people making such observations are simply feeling out uncomfortable realities of our culture that they haven’t previously fully faced.
It is our obligation and responsibility to point out the usefulness of such misguided analyses to structures of power, and to demonstrate convincingly how and why it’s not human beings themselves that are the problem, but rather, one very specific dominator culture that has risen to global dominance (so is easy to confuse and conflate with humanity itself): industrial “civilization” and consumer capitalism (and attendant settler-colonialism). Capitalism is the globally dominant form of industrial civilization, so I think it’s accurate enough to put our focus there, though I believe industrial civilization in any form will have similar results, even if the State controls the means of production rather than private capitalists (aka State “socialism”/”communism”).
For the vast majority of our natural existence as a species on this planet, we have not lived in ways that systematically denude and destroy our land bases. Our very existence on an evolutionary scale is evidence of that. And ecology informs us that species and cultures that violate ecological parameters and limitations are fundamentally and terminally unsustainable and self-eliminating. This is the process our culture currently finds itself in the midst of.
ANYways… human beings are not a virus. We are not a plague on the Earth. So-called “civilization” and consumer capitalism are carcinogenic, causing normal cells to behave abnormally, and detrimentally to the larger body. And this cancer has metastasized to encompass most of the body. But maybe give those coming to these realizations a break, and see if, when offered a more nuanced perspective and critique, they grow into it. Pointing fingers and screaming “ECOFASCISM!” is unlikely to have a productive result. That said, bash the actual fash, by all means.
The problem with individualism is this: eventually, you have to go to sleep and that is when they will shoot you in the head. See Fred Hampton for a historical example of that.
I have friends that are far-left individualists, kente cloth capitalists, and others who don’t have labels, who say they are ready for the revolution. They are ready, because they have guns and they have gone to the shooting range and they have practiced.
When they talk this way I typically stare. I stare not because I am anti-violence, I stare, because I have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Prince by Machiavelli , On War by Clausewitz (I read SOME of that one)…in any uprise of violence at this current time, the left will lose. It will lose badly.
The Far Right (which includes present-day Republicans) has more people, more discipline, and more weapons.
In an armed fight, disabled people will die, older people will die, children will die, and those who hesitate will die.
90% of the fraction of the people the left has who has the stomach to kill, will die, and that means all us will have to move, die, or be locked up.
You know I am not an alarmist. You also understand that I have been great at deducing future actions by observing present and past actions.
So my point is that what we need to do, instead of preparing for a battle, is to organize for peaceful political change. We need cooperatives up and running, so when the fire sale of the United States is over we have examples of a better way, instead of hoping the wealthy’s robots won’t enslave us for our universal basic income.
I guarantee we will lose in a violent battle. Accelerationism theory is only going to work well for those with an escape hatch: a passport, a trust fund, and a Ph.D. or other credential that allows a person to wax poetically in the ivory tower in another imperialist country after this one has burned to the ground.
We need to work together. We need to cooperate. Being reactionary is not going to be helpful. We need more time, this is not about stating that what we have is OK, or repairing what is not broken, because the system is not broken, it is working as it is supposed to. This is about giving us more time, because I don’t want us to die or even worse — be forced to live in what I fear is coming.
While Elizabeth Warren was destroying Bloomberg from jump at the Democratic Debate, I was doing bedtime with River and August (but I watched what I missed right away and Warren was incredible).
We read Freedom Soup, a gift from their aunt Rahula S. Janowski, and it’s a beautiful picture book about a Haitian Grandmother telling her Granddaughter about Black people fighting back against the ruling class and leading the Haitian Revolution against slavery and colonialism. The Grandmother is preparing Freedom Soup, denied to enslaved people before, as their family and friends come together to celebrate.
“They won!” River said with excitement.
“It’s like the Civil War.” my little four year old August says.
“Yes, in the Civil War, thousands and thousands of Black people fought back against slavery and freed themselves, just like in Haiti. And the revolution in Haiti both scared racist people in power, and inspired people here who had been forced into slavery, to fight back – before and during the Civil War and they were a major part of ending the slave system here.” I shared.
River asked questions about the Civil War and August mentioned how families were divided on different sides of the Civil War – as they’re learning about it in his pre-kindergarten class.
“Malcolm X had his family separated when white supremacists burned down his house.” River said, and his eyes got big as he starts making historical connections. River did a Black History Month project on Malcolm X last year and is learning more about him this year.
“What else do you know about Malcolm X’s life?” I ask and River goes over a handful of moments in his life, while August and I listen.
“And Harriet Tubman fought back against slavery too.” River adds. He continues, “She freed herself and then freed lots of other people from slavery and helped them get to a country where slavery was illegal.”
“They covered themselves in hay”, August jumps in. Which leads to a conversation about the Underground Railroad and how people used hay to cover themselves up riding in wagons and other ways people hid, as well as the Black and white abolitionists who hid people in their wagons, boats, and houses.
River read a kids book about Harriet Tubman – a book I’d been asking him periodically if he’d like to read for a couple of years, and he had said no, but now he was the one who brought up Harriet Tubman, he was the one who wanted to learn more. August and I snuggled and read stories about Frozen.
Before they both went to bed, we talked about how important it is that it’s Black History Month, and that a Black man named Carter G. Woodson, who lived here, in Kentucky, two hours away from Louisville, in Berea, taught history and created Black History Month and that because people fought and organized for justice, we now have Black History Month in our schools. Racism doesn’t want us to know these histories, but people fought back, just like in our book Freedom Soup, that aunt Rahula gave you.
I prayed last night with gratitude for all who have fought back, who have brought leadership to and participated in the vast efforts to make Black History Month a reality and who continue to expand what is possible, expand what kids and adults are learning, and making Black History Month part of movements for Black Futures where there is racial justice and collective liberation. And movements to end the malnourishment of white people’s souls and historical knowledge by white supremacy, so that white people rise up against this death culture too, and can get inspiration from the Haitian Revolution, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and Black and white abolitionists, inspiration to get free.
As part of our third installment of the This is What Democracy Looks Like: A Genealogy of Movements film series, we are going to view “American Autumn”.
We will be in Milam Hall 318 on the Oregon State Campus at 6pm.
This is a grassroots documentary looking at the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It illustrates the ways in which Occupy tried to connect the dots between so many different structural injustices. As Ronnie Schieb notes in this Variety review:
“Thus, in addition to airing grievances directed against banks and Wall Street by activists, professors, marchers, singers and comedians, the docu takes aim at student debt, covering marches protesting the skyrocketing cost of education; sits in on protestors seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that increased the power of moneyed interests in elections; and interviews those involved in environmental protection and climate-control issues. The docu includes footage of an anti-foreclosure group, the Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, as it interrupts the auction of a foreclosed home.”
Looking back at the Declaration of the New York General Assembly, its easy to see how the movement began by critiquing the undue influence of corporate money in the US political system, and the cascade of problems that follow the money trail:
“As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”
Many people look back, almost 10 years later, and wonder if any of this noise made any difference. The cynical among my students, for instance, think it was a failure. I often have to remind them that there was a massive repression against Occupy, coordinated on a nation wide basis, just a few months in. Someone in power thought this was a threat.
But its also clear that so much of our political space today would not be as possible without the openings in the radical imagination created by Occupy: issues like student debt, minimum wage to living wage increases, houselessness, and the interest in democratic socialism represented by Bernie Sanders and AOC.
“But today, Occupy Wall Street no longer looks like such a failure. In the long run, Occupy invigorated ideas and people that influence today’s American left and Democratic politics.Occupy was in many, many ways a shit show,” Nicole Carty, a Brooklyn activist who was a facilitator at Occupy, told me. “But it deserves props, it really does, for unleashing this energy.”
Being in the United States owing to slavery, and having relatives who are still alive who survived Jim Crow, gives you a unique perspective on justice in the United States.
If you look throughout history in this country, oppression is an ebb and flow. For example, during the Reconstruction Era, the era right after the ending of slavery (1863–1877), there were 1500 Black political officeholders. More than a half-million Black men became voters in the South during the 1870s, and the federal law somewhat protected Black people’s rights. But after Reconstruction, not only did we not hold office, we couldn’t even vote, and by “we” I mean Black men.
When I look at Trump’s impeachment trial my friends that are reasonable and logical say: “Well the moderates will be so disgusted by this that even if he doesn’t get impeached, they will come around?” Come around? Come around to what? This country bankrupts its own white children because they don’t want one tax dollar to go to a college program that might benefit a “Black.”
This country doesn’t have universal childcare because it would rather have white women kill themselves if they don’t have to share with Mexican-Americans. The moderates are racists and nationalists whose retirements are tied to the stock market. They don’t care if this country goes to hell. They’ve sent it there many times before.
The people who are most pro-Trump right now who are trying to suppress the witnesses in the Senate are the moderate Republicans. If they do the right thing, they will be primaried out.
I live in a country that used the military and militias to kill and forcibly remove people from their ancestral lands after tens of thousands of years of living here so the government could give that land away for free to white people to have homes and farms and so oil, timber, and mining interests could profit from “free” land for a quick buck.
I live in a country where 100 million acres of land was given away by the government for free to private railroad companies who sold the land at a profit to build houses and cities.
I live in a country where five white landowners own 9 million acres of land and all African-Americans, over 40 million people, combined own 8 million acres.
When we say the government can house people who are homeless and provide affordable housing in exchange for a third of people’s income, it should sound like a small thing, not a big thing, for this country to do.
I live in a country where for 250 years, it was legal to own another human being based on their skin color and force them to work for no wages and own no property to benefit the land owner.
I live in a country where today, workers lose more money in wage theft by business owners than all the robberies, burglaries, motor vehicle thefts, and larcenies combined. Wage theft is rarely prosecuted, but if it were, it carries only a $1000 fine.
I live in a country where Apple, which has 2-3 times more cash on hand than the US government received $500 million in government subsidies and Google, one of the most profitable businesses on the planet, received $600 million in government subsidies.
I live in a country that just gave away $1.5 trillion in tax breaks and encouraged overseas tax shelters for billionaires and corporations.
When we say the government should tax people and corporations fairly, and spend money on human needs for housing, safe drinking water, health care, education, income and social supports, it should be an easy thing for this country to do, not a hard thing.
The government redistributes wealth all the time. Instead of concentrating wealth for the few which is destroying our communities and the planet, we need to use our government to meet the needs of the people and invest in equity and justice.
Throughout history, anti-semitism has been used by ruling classes to culturally position Jews to be seen as “above” other oppressed and exploited people, to be seen as the ones really pulling the strings. For Jews as a concept and actual people, to then be targets of other working class and poor people’s anger and resentment.
Ruling classes have promoted and used anti-semitic conspiracy theories of power, to obscure who actually has power and how power operates systemically – systems can be resisted through popular movements, conspiracy theories fracture the energy that could be put into resistance, into a thousand mazes.
Trump and other white supremacists champion the state of Israel not out of solidarity or respect for Jewish people, but for what the military power of Israel can do to advance U.S. empire’s interests against Palestinian, Muslim and most Jewish people – all of whom are subhuman in the eyes of the white supremacists.
The executive order of Trump to equate Jews as a nationality and Israel their state, is not to protect a single Jewish life. Only ask “why are the right wing racist forces of Trump and others. more concerned about non-violent campus-based movements for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel’s apartheid system against Palestinians, then they are about white supremacist attacks on synagogues around the country by people in their own ranks?”
Trump does not love Jewish people. Trump does not oppose actual violent anti-semitism. Trump and other white supremacist want to practice the strategy of anti-semitism, by weaponizing Jewish identity to attack the Left, pit Jews against other oppressed and exploited people, and use Jewish lives as shields to cover their continued consolidation of power.
We must fight anti-semitism, be in solidarity with and look to leadership of Jewish people and organizations fighting this executive order – and remember that Israel does not equate to Jewish people, the international movement for Palestinian self-determination is a human rights effort, not anti-semitism.
We have a responsibility to remember the long history and current reality of Left Jewish leadership – from the anarchist and socialist labor movement to the Civil Rights and anti-war movements to going to jail today in mass civil disobedience against ICE concentration camps under the banner “Never Again”, to remember, as Trump and the white supremacists want to erase Jewish culture and history and equate being a Jew as being a defender of apartheid in Israel and therefore useful scapegoats and pawns that serve the racist rights agenda.
We grow more powerful, more powerful then we ever imagined, every moment and every day we refuse their divide and conquer strategy and embrace and build cultures of vibrant solidarity and work for collective liberation.
“I’m struggling to find my grounding, to feel grounded and good about who I am, while I’m learning about all of this history, learning about people who have looked like me in the past and look like me today – white and cisgender male – have been in positions of power and enacted such massive violence and oppression. I want to keep learning how to work effectively and holistically to end white supremacy, to end patriarchy, to work for socialism and collective liberation, and how to love myself and love other people who look like me too.”
We talked about the pain of learning histories of exploitation and oppression, of what has been, of learning about the violence and injustices of misogyny, of transphobia, of white supremacy today – learning about the violent acts of individual white men, of the collective patterns of violence of the culture of white racist patriarchy that raises men to be conscious and unconscious soldiers of supremacy systems.
We talked about the feels of shame, sadness, and dissociation that can arise for us as white men engaging in anti-racist, feminist, collective liberation work – with example after example of white men doing and saying terrible things.
And then we talked about the need for historical understanding and systemic analysis to situate ourselves in both the strategy of supremacy systems that positions us against so many, along with the history of liberation and justice values, visions and movements that have aligned us with so many.
That we see these brutal supremacy systems for what they are, including what they have done and continue to do to us – to socialize white men into this highly individualistic and competitive mindset in which self-worth is dependent on a vast web of domination and subjugation of the vast majority, that promotes violence, anxiety, social isolation and explosive depression – towards oneself and towards others.
That we see the ways supremacy systems want us as white men to reject liberatory values and visions, and the ways that we as white men need to rise up against supremacy systems both in solidarity with the vast majority and as an act of emancipatory love for ourselves and other white men who we do not want to see be used as tools for oppression.
That we understand that supremacy systems have long worked to get as many white men as possible to see themselves aligned with ruling classes, and that we, as white guy collective liberation organizers, need to be mindful that we don’t further entrench white men, making it seem that based on race and gender privilege, that class is irrelevant and that in fact white men are the ruling class – our goal is to awaken the heart of solidarity and dignity within white men, as we move them/ourselves to reject the supremacy systems of ruling classes and embrace – mind, body and soul – economic, racial and gender justice as efforts and movements to all get free.
We have to love each other, see each other, affirm and support each other, as we reclaim our hearts and minds from supremacy systems and work from the approach that supremacy systems are the enemy, and they can’t keep stealing the lives of white boys and white men to serve them.
Loving ourselves as white anti-racist, feminist men, for collective liberation – loving our bodies, loving our emotions, loving vulnerability, loving our tenderness, loving our strengths, learning about white men we can be inspired by, white men who we love and organize with – all of this is part of the journey to get free and become the leaders we need to become, especially among other white men. To get free and work, live, love and join with others, for collective liberation – from our personal relationships, to the governing values economically, politically and culturally.
We can do this, and we must bring as many white boys and white men with us, out of the death culture, the culture of emotional suffocation that leads to a hundred forms of violence, the structural inequality that deprives, exploits, divides and extracts our souls. We can do this, and can love and support other white men to be part of building up beloved community and the world our boys and kids of all genders deserve.
How can we talk with people in our lives during the holidays about our values? How can we challenge the ways that systems of oppression show up during the holidays with family and longtime friends, while also inviting people into liberation values and culture? How can we practice deep love for our people, stay humble about our own learning journey (past, present and future), and work to build the progressive racial, economic and gender justice majority throughout our lives?
I was asked to lead a workshop on having conversations with their families over the holidays about oppression and liberation. A workshop for social justice-oriented people from around the country who work in progressive religious institutions.
We started off identifying what feelings come up thinking about this. People shared out: anxiety, fear, pain, anger, sadness, nervous, as well as excitement for the opportunities. Most people shared that there’s a combination of homophobia, transphobia and racism in their families, families of color and white families.
We then identified where we felt these feelings in our bodies. In our gut, shoulders, throat, chest, sweaty palms, fast heartbeat, people shared. We took time to get grounded in our bodies and breathe together. To notice the places where we feel tight, constricted, nervous, and breathe into our bodies and into those places. To let our bodies relax and open, as part of opening up to possibilities for how we can engage.
Many agreed that it felt like they consistently played the role of the “uptight, radical killjoy” as familiar dynamics played themselves out, year after year. Many also shared that they enter these spaces on edge, and on guard and that dynamics of racism, homophobia, and transphobia usually begin with someone making comments and jokes that they then respond to, and that it rarely goes well – meaning, the social justice person is brushed off as being too uptight, too sensitive, and they end of feeling marginalized in their family.
We stepped back and I asked how many of us think about all of this in relationship to the most extreme reactionary person in our families and friend circles? Nearly everyone said yes.
Just as we tend to do this in our personal lives, we also tend to do this in our justice work throughout society. And, while we need to confront and engage the reactionaries, we are also working to build social justice/Left power. It’s important to remember there are many people in our families, friends and communities. While focusing on the most reactionary, the most racist, the most homophobic, and putting most of our energy on engaging them – we’re often not paying attention to others in our family and community who may be closer to us politically, who may be more open to what we’re saying, who may be on the sidelines but could be brought forward into these conversations if we engage them – meaning both sharing and listening.
This could be one-on-one conversations, or with people you feel close to in other ways and want to open up to them about values and parts of yourself that you haven’t shared yet. This could be asking people what they think about x, y and z. And often this is about listening to what other people are sharing, listening to their heart, and exploring what’s interesting and exciting or what they’re challenged by and struggling with. Making connections through music, movies, sports, and culture. Showing that you respect and care about others by engaging them on what they care about too. And then sharing what’s important to you, as much as possible in ways that are inviting people in. Talking about our values proactively – something we experienced that both expresses our values and that we’re excited about. Generally, in our families and with our friends, people care about us, and so sharing something proactively when asked “how have you been or what are you up to” is a way for people to know us deeper and hear about our work and values in positive ways.
And when we do engage with the most racist, homophobic, reactionary people in our families, it’s critical to remember that it is also the people around the conversation who we are also speaking to. For others in our family to see someone speak out, for the reactionary comments to not go unchallenged in ways that can signal unity and agreement.
My Mom didn’t change my Grandfather’s mind when she said his homophobia and racism were wrong, but it changed my life as a five, seven, ten year old kid, and positively impacted the lives of others in our family, none of whom spoke in those dinnertime discussions.
Just as we want to build a progressive majority in the country, we want to move people in our lives forward for collective liberation – for their and our healing, for more positive/justice-rooted culture in our families and communities, and for winning the structural, cultural, political, economic changes we are committed to and working for.
Sometimes in my family it was long debates about politics, about racism, about homophobia. Sometimes it was making social justice values clear and then rather then continue the debate about immigration, asking people who rarely spoke to share about what’s going on with them and asking people what they thought, when I knew they were more progressively aligned, but could use the encouragement and support to share their thoughts.
I also realized that while I was focused on being right, I often missed opportunities to listen more deeply and with more compassion. I realized that I was turning my rage for systems of oppression against people in my life who were expressing conscious or unconscious alignment with those systems. But I had to ground myself in historical and systemic understanding that systems of oppression are working everyday to get out people, our families, our communities, to internalize their worldview, values, and vocabulary as common sense. And that while we need to find ways to challenge that common sense, to also remember that supremacy systems use racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, as ways for people to make sense of their pain, embody their pain and express their pain. The more I asked questions and opened my heart to the pain underneath, the more I connected with people who I felt distance to, and the more I grew as a liberation organizer, working to move people, build a progressive majority and keep my eyes on the prize. The prize of winning social justice policy and legislation. Of winning social justice elected leaders. Of winning and advancing a racial, economic, and gender justice progressive agenda – economically, politically and culturally.
In the workshop we reflected on questions to help move us get grounded and be more effective:
How do you want to engage people in your families? Who? How? What are your goals for having these conversations with your families (biological and chosen)?
How do you want to feel afterwards? What impact do you want to have? What would success look like, feel like?
Think of a time when someone has said something to you about oppression that raised your consciousness and moved you forward for liberation. What did they say? What insights can you draw for conversations you want to have?
What can help you be grounded and in your power when talking with your families (biological and chosen)?
With love for our families and communities, with rage for supremacy systems, let’s keep building, practicing, growing, listening, and feeling whole in who we are. For our families, friends and communities, let’s get free!