the philosophactivist

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Only tell me of the possibilities, please...

Many times in our activism and organizing it is really easy to get bogged down with "the Struggle." We begin to focus on our cause in way that perpetuates and sometimes even recreates it. When anti-oppression work becomes our life...sometimes our "lens" becomes clouded with seeing all the things we fight for in every single situation. Now, there's nothing wrong with being aware. Today what I'm thinking about...after writing about this type of work, and allies, and sustainable this missing and very important piece- and that is how are we coming together? So many times we come together over what is wrong. Do we ever focus on what is right? Possibilities? And I don't mean pipe dreams. I mean a focus on how our communities could and should look. Do we get together and have groups about what is right with our communities? Lots of times when radicals and organizers,etc. come together it is largely reactive (because of some situation that has arisen) or to party (and it's ok to blow off steam and celebrate). 

How do we keep doing this work and not get bitter or jaded. Not have our outlook colored by the barriers we face day in and day out in work and outside of work. How can we encourage others when we're not getting a lot of encouragement ourselves? An important Zen proverb I stumbled across on a breakroom wall when I was an AmeriCorps Vista said,

 "Student says "I am very discouraged. What should I do?"
 Master says, "encourage others."

This proverb is born out of the idea that when we are at our lowest, if we encourage someone, this will provide the encouragement we have been needing ourselves. As organizers, activists, and advocates we might very often feel defeated and feel like we have no words to uplift others...but, if we dig deep within, all we need do is think of the words that we would like to hear at this very moment. This propels us forward and makes us realize that we are stronger than we thought and can continue on. 

 This is what our communities need. Lots of times they already know about all the negative things that are present in their neighborhood. They need to know what is positive,too. We all need to have reasons to go on keep, keepin' on. And this starts with us. The organizers...the activists....the advocates. We need to come together and support each other. Dialogue through differences, dialogue about solutions for systemic problems, organize together. We need to help each other see that we are not alone. Our causes do not stand alone. They are intricately interwoven and if we can address the root of these causes TOGETHER then everything we do from that point on will be sustainable. When we try to address things alone, it is easy for things to feel impossible. For instance, the civil rights movement. If Dr. King had set out on his march alone- well, we'd probably be still using separate water fountains. If Gandhi had practiced ahimsa alone and had not bothered to tell anyone, India might have still gotten its independence but the process would have been very different. Perhaps there would have been even more bloodshed.

So, people need to hear the possibilities for a better community. And not just that "it gets better." That's hard to see if you are living in an area where police brutality reigns supreme and drugs and violence are part of your daily existence. At the core of all of this inequality, oppression, and disparity I feel that the issue is very straightforward. We don't value one another in this society and "our" American values and economic model are to blame. From beliefs such as "every man for himself" and our ideas that in this country there exists a meritocracy in which everyone can achieve anything if they only TRY harder. That we get what we deserve and what we're worth. And the culmination or maybe the driving force behind "our" American values and beliefs...the American dream...which is basically getting all that you can (economically) for you and your family (at times, at the expense of everyone else). We have seen where this thinking gets us. An inflated self-importance gets us nowhere. Movements happen because people come together. Solidarity is not just about people coming together who share's about looking deep into these causes and seeing that there is a common goal. Seeing that our causes are inter-related. We need to organize around that. 

We also need to organize around TRUE equality and a dismantling of this ridiculous hierarchy of power based on race and wealth. We need to organize around the fact that although it says in our constitution that all men are created equal in this country- that obviously, just in the language itself, and in the ideology of our " founding fathers" that this was flawed at the very beginning. Brown people weren't "men"...women weren't "men"...and equality did not have the meaning it has today. And in my honest opinion--equality still brings up issues because it is a relationship built on power. An example-
if two people are "equal" it means they have an "equal" amount of power...when will we get away from that? Will we always be fighting for a balance of power or will we uproot this whole notion...move past this feigned notion of "equality" (which usually at some point gets tainted with color-/gender-/ability-/sexuality-blindness and forces many to assimilate and acculturate) and move on to something real. Sigh. More on this some other time... 

In this country we already know that it's diverse, but is it inclusive? While working for the Office of Diversity and Community Outreach at a family of hospitals, I begin to see the difference between these two and how organizations completely disregard the need for both. Also in my organizing I've seen this happen - especially in radical circles that are not inclusive of queer people or people of color...or the LGBT community that is not inclusive of genderqueers or people of color... and we could go on and on. What good is diversity if  sub-groups within groups continue to be marginalized and have no voice? How can a group or organization actually benefit from these diverse perspectives if voices other than the dominant voice are not valued? And how can movements advance without these perspectives? How can creative solutions come from groups or organizations that are culturally (and environmentally) homogeneous?

Now apply this to our neighborhoods and our communities...

Now apply this to our states....

Now apply this to our country. 

Hmph. OUR country. We have to stop believing the hype...that this country belongs to someone else. It's ours. It belonged to many strong groups of People that were decimated and relegated to tiny plots of land "out of the way" of the colonizers. Yes. This is true. And now we have got to take ownership. We have got to take ownership on every level. On a personal level (of our actions and interactions), on a community level, on a state level, and at the larger national level. If we want programs that assist us, safe communities, affordable health care, affordable education, immigrant rights and fairer labor laws-- we have to come together. If we want our country to stop trying to "democratize" the world and impose "our" way of governing and values onto others, we've got to come together. If we would like to see the end of this Amerocentric (well Western, in general) view that we can just parachute into places and occupy and kill and whatever else we're doing in so many places in the world under the pretense of "helping people" and "democracy"- we have to come together and speak up and not feel defeated as individuals...or that we can do nothing. That's it's all out of our hands and beyond our power. It's completely true that we can't do this by ourself and that we should stop trying to. But we have to realize that there are tens of thousands of people who want what we want...that have a vision of the possibilities...that see the good. And if you don't...can't...won't... 
We should talk.


  1. Hello!
    I love your writing, it speaks to everything that I've been experiencing here as well as many people trying to do this work.

    I am starting a series on my blog where I'll showcase essays from other women of color. Would it be possible for me to showcase one of your essays? Please let me know, I truly appreciate your work.

  2. Thanks. Sounds ok as long as nothing gets edited and you just use Toi or "they" and not "she" when referring to me. I really like what you're doing on your blog and I'm honored that you contacted me :).