This story is the third in Truthout’s “Visions of 2018” series, in which activist leaders answer the question: “What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?” Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward.
As activists and artists, how do we motivate others? How do we mobilize people into sustainable movements? As we approach these questions in 2018, we would do well to remember that there’s more to organizing and informing people than criticism.
When we take fear into account, it’s not surprising to see many who’d rather embrace the lie they know in place of a truth they do not.
I used to hold many of the beliefs, ideas and politics that I find myself regularly denouncing now. Since this is the case, I try to be understanding toward some of the people who may not yet realize the things I’ve come to understand in my life. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, popularly known as Malcolm X, stated this perfectly in a letter to Maya Angelou, where he wrote:
We need people on each level to fight our battle. Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.
The road to better insights, which many of us are still actively traveling on, is often marked by people who take the time to help us learn and grow, and who don’t belittle others simply because they’re not as informed.
During difficult times like these we’re living in, there will always be people who are prone to behave in desperate ways. Some are ready, willing and able to quickly betray themselves and/or others for anything that even just slightly appears to resemble relief or security. They may be capable of committing themselves to the same political missteps that helped lead us all to this despicable moment we’re in. Actual progress and change can die and do die at the hands of an overzealous optimism that relies on the same to give us anything new. The same political parties that break promises, the same politicians who cave to the control of the elite, and the same government that has been ruthless from its very beginnings are going to keep doing what they have always done. When we take fear into account, it’s not surprising to see many who’d rather embrace the lie they know — for example, the lie that the US is a functioning democracy — in place of a truth they do not.
Our current political times are so regressive that human rights like guaranteed health care, housing and fair wages are considered “radical.” Capitalism has infected minds across every section of this society. Even among those of us who it oppresses disproportionately, some may defend the abuse they’re familiar with; they may even think attempting to utilize this abusive system is the solution to ending their abuse. This happens at the expense of their loved ones and the communities of which they are a part.
I used to hold many of the beliefs, ideas and politics that I find myself regularly denouncing now.
In turn, many on the left are understandably working to critique and confront the liberal idea that the political system and institutions working against us are reformable. While the criticisms of what liberalism has tolerated that led us up to now certainly ring true, the way these criticisms are levied is often counterproductive. Simply insulting and critiquing people is not organizing them.
Like the standard of what’s designated “radical” tells us how far behind we are, so, too, does what many people consider liberating and freeing, and what they label “resistance.” I personally don’t believe anything about the US political system is liberating or freeing. I’ve accepted that the country my people have had to fight and rebel and bleed and sweat to be a part of is a hindrance to our liberation. This much shouldn’t be controversial. Nevertheless, I have the utmost respect for the people who gave so much to get us to this point. The work of those who labored for representation in government, media and civic life should not be trivialized by unreasonable attachment to a blatant lie; that untruth says that what we have at our disposal to reflect our hopes, needs and desires through government is adaptable. It isn’t.
Simply insulting and critiquing people is not organizing them.
We should work to understand how people reflect their desire for change, who they pick to represent those desires, and what they have at their disposal to do so because it means everything, even if they are caught up in fruitless cycles that don’t yield real results.
The self-expressed desire for people to be free is a common theme across the diverse spectrum of nations and empires. The definition of what freedom is becomes malleable for the sake of oppressive powers that hope to propagandize and push their own agendas. What freedom is not is all around us, decaying, immersing us in its rot. This expired hell that we’re all too familiar with should be thrown away, and the love of liberation will help us do that cleaning.
The love of liberation involves critical introspection to truly feel the deeper needs of those who are disposed of and disinherited.
This fight we’re in is not about careerism, celebrity or winning as if it’s a game. It’s also not about waiting. Time alone will not remove the unacceptable, and what we’ve become familiar with will indeed try to destroy us all before it allows itself to be easily overtaken. This obliges us to take up a revolutionary love, pursue a deeper understanding, and go forth serving the people’s needs.
The needs are many: Some need to be fed, need clean water, need to be unconfined, need health care, need a home or safety, need a friend or a teacher or a community. The list goes on. Despite where they are currently at, it’s by offering the services that people need (which capitalism fails to give them) that minds and hearts can be changed. Not everyone will make it, or get what it is we’re working for. The work of changing this world is extensive, and the pre-revolutionary moment we’re in requires us to not expect overnight results.
In love, we can find ourselves freer than in any place entrapped by borders.
This is why liberation is deeper than condescension and criticism. Life and love are much more intricate than the simplicity of tiring reactionary battles. People who have invested their entire beings, hopes and communities into ideas that aren’t working are having their hearts broken repeatedly. Broken hearts certainly need mending. And sometimes collective liberation can seem like a dream. But it is real, and it can answer the incompleteness created by repressive disarray.
It’s not up to oppressed people to educate their oppressors and organize them. We should never believe that it’s required of people experiencing brutality to meet those brutalizing them with patience and understanding — though if people do choose to do this, it’s certainly up to them. However, the prerogative should not be to appease power as much as it should be for us to upend it. What’s clear is that people need to be more organized and unaccepting of what’s guaranteed to harm us: racial capitalism. And a liberatory framework that fights against repression is love, and that’s exactly what we need.
In the coming year, let’s focus on the fact that love — and how we choose to utilize it — will give us a preview of the safety we’ve never known. In love, we can find ourselves freer than in any place entrapped by borders. Through love, radical risks actualize revolution and true deliverance.