As we navigate the wreckage of the Trump administration, how can we respond to crisis from a place of power? In the season finale of “Movement Memos,” Kelly Hayes and Ejeris Dixon talk about the dangers we still face, the relationships we need, and how we can help each other do more than simply survive these times.
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. I’m your host, Kelly Hayes.
Today’s episode is the finale of our second season, and of our first year of Movement Memos, and I’m so glad you all could join us. This is a time of mixed emotions for many of us, as our relief about Trump’s exit slams up against the reality of the moment: a looming housing crisis, broken promises around stimulus checks, and a terrifying new strain of COVID-19 that is barreling toward dominance in the U.S. In Chicago, where I live, restaurants are reopening, even as predictions about the new strain become increasingly dire. Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout continues to falter, and we now have word that nearly 20 million doses may have gone missing under the Trump administration. It’s overwhelming, to say the least.
So what do we do when we get overwhelmed? Well, about four years ago, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I recognized Donald Trump as a would-be autocrat who was fueling a fascist movement, but I needed to know more. So I set out on a research project, and as it happened, my friend Ejeris Dixon, who is a grassroots strategist in New York City, had the very same idea. So, over time, we mapped things out together. We read histories and strategic texts and talked with people who had survived autocracies, and we amassed a lot of knowledge that we put to work in our organizing. We weren’t experts or historians. We were simply, as Ejeris would say, “bitches who read.” I am excited to have Ejeris back on the show today, but we won’t be doing a deep dive on fascism, though I will be linking to episodes about fascism in the show notes. Today, we are going to talk about pivoting to meet the moment and processing where we’ve been.
In Chicago, I have already pivoted to working on medical grade mask distribution. Because it has become painfully clear that my city is not going to warn residents that we should all have N95s or KN95s as the new strain takes hold. We know that the next few months are going to be rough, and that mutual aid, and other forms of community care, will be more important than ever. We also know that this is going to be a time of trouble shooting amid disaster. But how do we build beyond merely reacting to events as they unfold? How do we strengthen the fabric of our organizing, so we can respond to crisis from a place of power, and how do we sustain each other as we struggle? Ejeris and I got together earlier this week to try to answer some of those questions and I hope you will enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Today’s guest is my friend, research buddy and co-struggler Ejeris Dixon. Ejeris is an organizer, a grassroots strategist and co-author of the book Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement. Ejeris, welcome back to the show.
Ejeris Dixon: Thanks, Kelly. Excited to be with you.
KH: I usually ask my guests how they’re doing, but we’ve been talking a lot, and I feel like maybe we don’t know yet? So much has happened, and there’s so much to process. You and I spent a lot of time over the last four years tracking the march of fascism, strategizing and organizing, making safety plans for ourselves and others, talking about what self defense looks like, and texting late at night because we were just completely terrified. And damn, we’re still here.
EJ: Whoa. We are still here. Which I wasn’t sure about, you know? I feel a little discombobulated and out of sorts, but I also feel a mix of relief and readiness, you know? But that’s yeah, I’m in a thinking space around, “What do I need as a person? What do our communities need? How can I support movement groups well?” And just a little bit of like, “Whoa, all that did happen.”
KH: Same here. Well, this episode marks the end of our second season and of our first year of Movement Memos, and I am so glad you could be here to mark this occasion with me, because I feel like you and I have created some of the best episodes of this show together.
EJ: Well, you know, I don’t listen to myself talk, so I can’t speak to that. I am really grateful for “Movement Memos” as a space to dig into politics in a really tumultuous time. I think one of the things I’ve been, I think experiencing and witnessing is how much, for lack of better language, bad news overload people were experiencing and how much the disconnect from critical information we were having with organizers, activists, other folks on the left I was engaging with.
And so I really appreciate that you would be like, “Here’s the thing we should be looking at. Here’s what we’re talking about. Here’s how we’re digging in deeper. Here’s the history of this issue.” I think our folks needed guideposts because folks were overwhelmed, traumatized trying to take care of their health, trying to take care of others, you know?
So I am pretty damn grateful to be here with you too, and grateful for what you’ve created.
KH: Well, I appreciate that and I appreciate you. And I hope you’ve been getting some rest, finally. Not that there isn’t work to do, but you personally definitely deserve some rest.
EJ: Well, so funny is, yeah, I’m going to take a couple of days of rest. And so in both the type-a person that I am and the way that I do a lot of strategy support, coaching facilitation for movement groups. So I planned two kind of short vacations in January, two just in case one of them got canceled by fascism.
And so on January 6, I was about to turn off the news and turn off my wifi and sleep and eat. You know, I really wanted to sleep, rest, and eat good food all day. And then I just remembered, like I had my TV on mute, and then I started to see the Capitol attack and I was like, “Oh, okay, well, thank goodness we planned for this.” Not like, “Thank goodness this is happening,” but like, “Okay, well, you know, fascism and everything is unpredictable.”
And yeah, I think the funniest thing is I come here and I talk a lot about fascism, but I had no intention to really dig in. Like some of this all started with, I was talking to you a lot. I started to listen to different podcasts and read a lot of books because I was thinking about, “How do I support leftist organizers if I don’t understand the political terrain, right?” And knowing that the global fascist movement was impacting us, but I didn’t really understand how to separate fascism from other forms of right wing ideology or other forms of right wing organizing. And I do remember the point, there was a point where it was hard for almost to take ourselves seriously, or I don’t want to speak for you, because so few people were having the conversation. And then I, like a couple of months ago something really changed for me when I’m like, I’m looking at MSNBC and Joe Scarborough is yelling about fascism, right?
He’s got Madeleine Albright on to talk about her book on fascism. And I was like, “Okay, well, I guess we didn’t get it wrong.” [Laughter] But it still means, you know, what do we do — cause it was a very quick mainstreaming of the conversation that didn’t necessarily mean a huge strategic pivot for us. Right? And I think that was the thing that we were trying to do was like, “Hey everyone, wake up because this means our organizing needs to look a bit differently,”
KH: Right, and I think that’s super important to name. I still feel that most people don’t realize, and may never realize, how close we came to living in a fascist, autocratic state. But the way in which fascism was ultimately acknowledged, in the media and by the powerful, did not necessarily help us. Because you had people for the last four years, uplifting an analysis of fascism for the purpose of, not just stopping Trump, but getting people to understand how this happens, and why it happens, and why it happened here. And people who plugged into that analysis got to understand that Trump wasn’t some fluke product of our reality TV society, but that neoliberalism, which we’ve now returned to, paved an inevitable path to rightwing dominance, and with Trump, we were faced with the possibility that this consolidation of power, that the GOP had been working towards for decades, was going to happen, with a reality TV star as its fascist, autocratic leader. A lot of people dismissed that analysis, and I want to read a quote from an article in Intelligencer that came out two days after the Capitol raid where an unidentified senior Trump official said, “This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now — things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We’d say, ‘Trump’s not a fascist,’ or ‘He’s not a wannabe dictator.’ Now, it’s like, ‘Well, what do you even say in response to that now?’”
And so, we finally got that acknowledgement, that we had not been wrong, and even Trump’s own people are like, yes, he’s a fascist. But what’s happened in the wake of that acknowledgement? We have people panicking the way they did after 9/11, and instead of questioning the neoliberal austerity agenda that paved the path to Trumpism, we are in danger of seeing new anti-terror legislation that will be used to target the very communities that spent the last four years raising the alarm.
And I am not trying to go down a rabbit hole about neoliberalism — we have done that recently on the show and I will drop some links in the show notes — but I want people to think critically about the story that’s being told right now, just as there was a story that was being told at the start of the Trump administration, about how things wouldn’t be all that bad, and how he was probably too incompetent to do too much damage, and how the institutions of government would stop him from doing so many of the things that he actually wound up doing. And those of us who were insisting that we were looking at a wannabe autocrat and the potential rise of fascism, were mocked and dismissed, and I want people to think about that now, as they see how people who are critical of Biden are treated. Because people who are bringing up the history of neoliberalism, of Biden himself, of broken promises, or really, just what it’s going to take to not wind up back in the hands of a fascist — no one wants to hear us right now, any more than anyone wanted to hear it back then. And while we are by no means talking about the same threat, we are talking about patterns that repeat and end in predictable ways — and we are also talking about people who don’t want to process how bad bad can get, so they tell themselves stories about how it all might work out, or that we’re being rescued, and they punish people who contradict those stories. So I just want to caution our listeners that, when you see people being told to shut up and stop fucking with everyone’s peace of mind, because they are explaining neoliberalism, or Biden’s record, or how neoliberalism paved the path to fascism and will again, if we don’t stop it, don’t indulge that head in the sand nonsense. Because trust me, it’s no fun being the messenger. People shoot at you. No one wants to be the messenger, and no one who sees something absolutely terrible on the horizon wants to be right. Trust me, as someone who has a pretty solid track record of predicting political events, being wrong is incredibly underrated. Sometimes, I just long for the warm embrace of being wrong.
EJ: [Laughing] I know, I think we said this to each other, a point where it was like, “I want to get this wrong,” right? Like, I love being right. Right? Like it’s a part of my personality I’m working on, the need to be told that I was right, you know. And I was like, “I’m very okay with getting this wrong. I’m very okay with exaggerating. I’m very okay with you just being like, ‘Yes, that was alarmist. You got extra. You just read a lot of books and lived in a different world,’ right? So sorry, sorry for scaring you.” But it was also a way that we could see that like when people — and I think it was like the trauma of the times, folks were so overloaded that they also couldn’t take in the information.
And so it’s both exactly what you said about how close we came, but how close we still are. And in this moment, I think in this moment, is how do people — like, people desire and deeply need rest or a shift, right? And I don’t want us to brand-new-day it so hard that we ignore that we still have a fascist and autocratic movement in this country. There is still a global fascist movement; they are still working to build power and they are angry.
KH: So we are assessing a new political terrain. So what’s the same and what’s different?
EJ: I think what’s the same is that organizing matters, right? Meaning that we cannot expect that policies as we need them, or expect them, will be easy wins at all under Biden. Right? That we still need to build mutual aid, that we still need to continue abolitionist work. What it does mean is it’ll be fascinating because we’re going to have, and “we” as broad strokes, but many folks who are either in organizations or maybe longer term leftist, you will know somebody who will be in collaboration or at least talking to the Biden administration. Right? And that’s different. And what we saw when this was happening under the Obama administration is sometimes we gave, often we gave Obama too many passes, right? Like, “Oh, it’s hard,” you know? And did not always protest as hard or hadn’t really figured out if we wanted to do inside and outside game and what that looked like. Right? Or what are the short-term policy victories and wins that we need to survive? And how do we also keep pushing without spending too much time just arguing with each other? Because there’s a piece that — some of this is about strategy, and strategy can align with our politics. So I think of that as what’s different.
What’s the same that we don’t want to be the same is that, there’s still a lot of danger. We want to believe that we’re outside of danger, right? But the right still has tremendous power. They still believe that their quote unquote “way of life” is being eradicated. The militias are still there and people will also continue to — and the level of misinformation, right, what people believe about Antifa, what right wing people believe about Black Lives Matter, that’s still present and COVID is still present. From COVID deniers to just the massive amounts of sickness and death and also there are just so many people who also have really long term health conditions that we still don’t know what they look like, right?
What’s different is there’s a vaccine. What’s the same is it looks like there is still a lot of struggles to get access to it. The rollout under Trump is bad. It seems like it’s still going to be pretty difficult under Biden. So under what we can call shifts in political opportunity, that we will both want to celebrate and challenge, it was very easy for the left to unilaterally like “Trump is bad, all bad.” What we’ll have to fight is a tendency to fight each other as opposed to fighting our targets. Right? And there is a way that people could organize in solidarity against Trump and we will still need broad coalitions. We will still need places to have broad strategy and places to have a lot of difference and figuring out how to communicate and challenge each other. Like, I don’t know if we know, yet, how to have strategic disagreement. Or “don’t know” is a pretty broad — let me get more specific; many people on the left that I am connected with struggle to have conversations around political disagreement. And I think we need them because I think strategy needs to be more nimble when you’re navigating neoliberals than it does around neo-fascists.
KH: Well, we know that a lot of people want to sort of live in their relief right now and just sort of give Biden time to figure things out, and some people are going to feel conflicted about challenging folks on that. We know, because we have been here before, that we are going to be told not to complain about Biden’s policies in the beginning, because his administration is new and Trump left utter catastrophe in its wake. Then, later, we’ll be told that we need to quiet down because of the midterms, and then it will be about the general election. So how should people contend with that?
EJ: I think that there’s one piece where, I want leftists to remember that leftists are a huge part of Trump’s defeat. The electoral power that was harnessed, there were a ton of people who do not, are not particularly fond of, don’t believe in this system, who are like, “We need to get Trump out so that we can have a better organizing terrain to defeat this global fascist movement and to build some policy victories.” There is no way Biden wins without a lot of leftist organizers who overlap with the movement for Black lives and migrants rights movements and climate justice movement and so many queer and trans liberation movements and BIPOC movements and Indigenous movements; there’s no way it happens. So I don’t want us to forget that we are the ones with the people power, that built the people power.
And so, what’s hard is, because we have so many different visions of what we want. Like, what does a liberated society look like? We can get stuck around, like when we have what I would call the ability to move things. But what do we want, right? Like, being against is a little easier than, what are we for, if we have the opportunity to build some pieces of that?
KH: What do we say the liberals who tell us to just shut up about Biden?
EJ: So the liberals who will tell you to shut up are not the people who actually won the election. Right? So it is only us deciding and choosing to play small, to listen to those voices, right? And everyone who said, “We are, you know, I’m doing electoral politics to choose. We’re choosing our next opponent. Right?” Everyone who said that, I think, one, all of us need to hold those organizations accountable for that stance and for that line, because there’s going to be this piece where there’s going to be a lot of folks will be drawn in and drawn close to be advisors to the Biden administration, right? But the truth is, is that it’s BIPOC movements that did this. And so we need to put like, yes, we deserve rest and relief. And we also need to think about, what are the strategies and what are the policies that are needed? And for the next two years particularly, so that we can get our communities more relief. How are we thinking about housing? How are we thinking about healthcare? Right? How are we thinking about the economic need of our communities so that we can strengthen our organizing. This is one of those moments where we lose power, like, if we choose it, right? If we choose to get stuck in more of an infighting mode, as opposed to, here are the policies, right? So I’m super excited about how M4BL has put out the BREATHE Act and they’re like, “And now we push this.” And so I think it is about knowing what we want, going for it hard, and continuing some of the united front and coalition alliances that people built to build power. And to not forget about the, like, to not have — I know a lot of folks who did electoral work, not just to win particular elections, but to build bigger bases, right, to build deeper relationships. And so what are the mutual aid needs of those communities? How do we support those communities and how do we continue to build power outside of an electoral frame, but not ignoring the electoral context.
KH: So how do we stay in the game, after the last year, after the last four years, but especially 2020? We saw an explosion of mutual aid efforts, at the start of the pandemic, some of which have endured, but we, as a society, are still far too insular to do some of the work that needs to be done.
EJ: I think it’s still incredibly challenging under COVID for people to build new relationships, under these times, because so much is happening virtually, and we also know that so many low-income community members don’t have a lot of access to the internet, or are not as present on social media. So I get really curious about both mutual aid base-building and what I would also call, like, what are the ways that folks, how do we get, what’s the relief team for folks who’ve been doing mutual aid for the last year. And I mean, maybe my big top line for maybe — I think the answer for whatever question you asked me, Kelly, will be joining an organization, build broad alliances, meet people you don’t know, and support the people you do know to deepen their political work. Because I think that’s needed right now.
KH: Can you say a bit more about those relief teams? Because we really need those.
Yeah. And that’s why I think that it’s unfair and difficult to ask folks who are exhausted to just keep going indefinitely. And I spent about 10 years doing active, rapid response on violence and murder of queer and trans people of color. And so often when people talk about resilience or sustainability, they’ll talk about the breaks that the people who are doing the work need, but sometimes you just need coverage. Whether you need 24 hour coverage or you need to cover a neighborhood or whatever you need, right? And so I think of it as like, how do we bring in enough people so that we can think of it as shift work. Right? And so that’s what I’m thinking about around relief teams. So, you know, I’m slightly connected to some of the mutual aid networks in my neighborhood. And that was mostly because I was struggling to figure out how to do that with my other political commitments and my asthma, right? But I think there are a lot of ways that I’m down to be in, I’m down to be like on the relief team.
So I think it’s, what’s hard is that when folks do really tough work for a long time, there is a tendency to get insular because you have built trust, right, and new people can create a context for disagreement and misalignment and all of these other pieces, or just differences in political perspective, or just differences in political education. And so, yeah, I’m just like, if everybody thought about what is the political project that I could increase my activity within, whether you want to think about this relief team idea, or you want to deepen your work in another place, or you want to think about who you want to join. I think we need it and it may not just be, I don’t think it’s just about mutual aid. I think a lot of us need someone to tap us on the shoulder virtually, you know, and say like, “Hey homie, take a break. It was a hard year and I can do more.”
KH: That resonates with me a lot as someone who has struggled with my health in the last year. Even when I was diagnosed with COVID last spring, I was in my bed, with my laptop, organizing, and trying to help people who wanted to take action connect with other people in their neighborhoods — because it is hard for folks to just meet a bunch of new people when everyone’s afraid of being around other people — so that takes work, that takes having folks people will trust with their information. And I worked on Mourning and Healing Project, so we could connect people with pastoral counseling and grief counseling, as mutual aid, and help folks organize Zoom funeral services, if they didn’t know how to do that. And I will say, me getting sick helped make that project sustainable, because I didn’t have the option of making myself so necessary that I could become a weakness. I was honest with people about the precarity of my health, and when things got bad, everything kept moving, because I had that relief in place within the group. And I just had a great meeting with that group this past week, and we are still offering that help, we will actually be looking for more providers soon, to volunteer, but I had to again tell folks that there were very finite things I could contribute at this time, because I am again dealing with some health stuff, which could be lingering effects of COVID. We just don’t know. But it’s limiting, and while I am in this limited moment, that work will continue, because we have honest communication and commitment and when something needs to happen, the team works the problem, and I am so grateful for that.
EJ: Well, and also there’s a thing that happens. I feel like this is one of those moments that I’m experiencing this, but I’m experiencing it a bit less because my work looks different than it has in the past. So this is the moment where a lot of organizers and activists went really hard, right, either this year or the last couple of months. And like you look in the fridge and you’re like, “Wow, Like, it looks terrible there.” You look around your life. Your relationships are a bit of a mess. You’re a bit of a mess, right? Like just basic maintenance and it’s not fun to sit in that, right? Like it’s not. Sometimes we go so hard in our political work that we will jump on the next project just to avoid sitting with the parts of us that are tired, drained, or can even feel isolated or empty. Right? And so.
KH: [Laughter] You’re just going to call me out in public, on my own show.
EJ: [Laughing] No, I’m talking about myself, I am talking about myself. But, and that’s not the place we can organize anything sustainably from, cause we’re running away from ourselves. Right? And that is also really scary for other people to witness. So nobody wants to join the movement of the haggard, right? And so all that to say, I did a thing around my own sustainability, where I created an email list of friends who I think had just different rules. Right? Weren’t always frontline organizers. And I was like, here are the things I’m struggling with. And so people were like groceries and this and this, just like supporting me on the basic needs, mostly because I do a lot of abolitionist safety and security work and because of threats of violence that were happening to movement groups, particularly in the last six months. We were inundated and we were just trying to create so much support for people that I was having trouble doing the basics.
So I’m about to shut down that little email list now, because now I can cook for myself and do all these things, but my thought will be like, “I no longer want to be y’all’s political project. I want you to build your own political projects, right?” The most helpful thing to do in this moment is not more support to me, but is what other support and relief can we create?
I think we’re struggling on the left around figuring out how to have a space of, I think opt in or consent. Like everyone can do what they can. And also, the right is coming at us, like a truck, right? And so, how do we build spaces where we don’t say to people you’re we never want to go back. Cause I’ve grown up in some leftist spaces where there was a very clear message of “your best was not good enough,” right? So we don’t want to create that, but we also don’t want to create movements where some of us who are very in tune with the threat are overworking because we see what’s happening and other people aren’t either present with the threats or don’t want to be present.
So I think we have a big question around structures for sustainability that really put our collective needs first, right, and our collective health and our collective impact and effectiveness, as opposed to a more individualistic frame on what sustainability looks like.
KH: So looking back on the last four years, what do you think we learned, and what do you think we didn’t learn?
EJ: I almost want to challenge the we a little bit. Cause I think some of us learned. No, no, no, no, almost meaning that like, did we all learn that there’s a global fascist movement, right? And when we hold onto that knowledge. Right? I don’t know if we have truly learned the power of long-term strategic alliances, meaning for every political project we do, we all don’t have to have the same politics, right? Sometimes we can just agree on who our opponent is or sometimes we can agree that everyone deserves housing. Right? And so I think we have not yet learned the difference between what many of us call a political home and a strategic alliance. And I think, so if we require every political space that we’re in for us to have complete alliance, then we may not be building with people we don’t know. We may not be building with people who aren’t as politicized as us or who haven’t had the same level of access.
Right? And we may not be building big enough formations to address sizable threats. And so that’s the thing I’m still like, “Have we learned that? And have we learned how to move through disagreement and harm, or even just hard conversations where the first go-to isn’t ‘This is impossible, right?’”
We’ve had to do a lot of work with groups around the difference between discomfort and harm and disagreement and harm. So I think, I think we learned that. What I hope we also have learned, but I’m not sure. So, in the safety and security work I do, and I don’t speak to specifics often, right? I help give a lot of trainings from a Black, Indigenous, people of color, movement led, feminist, queer and trans frame on what does it take to build safety and security? And what I experience is that folks only want to think about the safety of their safety periodically. And then they make these asks that are impossible, right? So we got so many asks about militias weeks before the election, weeks. And the thing that people want, I’ve been joking that people want safety in a box, right? And then I can say like go to this website and download safety in a box. And you’ll put on this jacket and it will make you safe and everyone wears it, you know, and everybody’s safe.
But the truth is, is that whether it’s organizing, whether it’s safety and security work, the transformative skills are built over time and with practice. So what we have to learn is that we will win over time, right? We build power over time, not points in time. The movies show you that the left, like this march and they shut it down and then they won. And it’s great cinema, but it’s not organizing, it’s not politics. Right? Because they don’t want to show that many meetings. They don’t want to show these zoom calls, right, all of those pieces. So, I want us to build the type of power and support on like a general boring ass Tuesday, right? That, and I want people to go to, I want us to build more consistency in how we show up in our organizing work, because then we’ll know we’re building transformation as opposed to organizing from a more reactive place.
KH: Yes, people need to embrace the unsexy stuff, because most of the work is entirely unsexy. It’s about building things with other people, and things that are built sustainably require a lot of time and intention. And it requires us to be able to work with people we don’t like. Some people actually got irked with me during inauguration week because I wrote a post saying, yes, we are going to have to fight Biden, and he is not a savior, but laughing in people’s faces right now because they are happy about the inauguration might make it harder to organize those folks later. And people got angry and claimed I was trying to silence critique, because people simply couldn’t handle being told that they would not be able to organize people that they openly hold in contempt. I am sorry, but there is no world in which you can do that.
Like I will sometimes tell people that we need to be able to organize with people who aren’t of our own choosing. And when I say this then folks will immediately come back at me with lists of people and types of people who they won’t organize with. They jump straight to exclusion, and the people they want absolutely nothing to do with, rather than asking themselves, “Okay, but who could I give a chance?” Who could you challenge yourself to work with? Because you will not build anything by writing lists of people who are not welcome. You have to figure out who is welcome, and also, how far outside of your comfort zone you can move. So much of what goes on online in terms of the discourse around the politics is about exclusion and disqualification. And it’s about people sort of affirming themselves as having the identity of being a person with good politics. There’s a whole lot of self exaltation and self-righteousness that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. And it definitely doesn’t amount to living your politics in concert with other people, and it definitely doesn’t amount to action.
EJ: So, for all of us who’ve survived hard things. And this is the part where I think I almost might say, I don’t want to speak for your experience, but as you have a long history of direct action, I have a long history of security, right? You don’t get to choose whose body you put yourself on the line for. You just don’t. And, if you are really doing the work, and if you believe in your politics, then you at some point show up for strangers. And it aligns with so many other experiences as a marginalized person, right? So as a survivor, you don’t always get to choose who helps you survive. And so there is a piece around preciousness and privilege, around wanting to say that “I will only work with people with [these politics].” Now I’m not saying that you have to work with people who have caused you harm. That’s not what I’m saying, but there is a way that we are so quick to interpret that, that actually is about the fear of navigating something hard or the fear of navigating difference. And what Southern organizers, and I have a lot of family in the South, but what Southern organizers repeatedly say to me is that, “We can’t be as precious as y’all are up North. We have to build broad alliances of folks who believe in justice, or who believe in freedom, or who believe that people should have housing, and that people should have food.Because of our organizing conditions and terrain, some of the bullshit arguments that y’all are in, they don’t fly here cause we need each other too much.” And so I think it’s just really critical for us to think about, and I’m not a scholar of the right, but from what I’ve heard from the scholars who are, they have been plotting and planning for at least 30 years, and of course more; we can go, like the history of this country and white capitalists, like hetero patriarchal supremacy. But there is a strategic plan going on, and they’re going to continue to execute and up the ante. And I want to be in a left that challenges and pushes back and organize this towards the world that we want, as opposed to a left that argues about who can and can’t be in the room when the fascists are coming for us. So that’s my belief system on that.
KH: I am very grateful for the words “we don’t always get to choose who helps us survive,” because wow, if we could all get our heads around that, the left could really be onto something. And it reminds me of a conversation you and I were having recently about how we didn’t win anything in November. We survived. This is what living to fight another day looks like, and it’s an ugly day at that, but we have it. We survived, and hundreds of thousands of people did not. And if we do the things we have always done, we will see the same outcomes. Neoliberalism will pave a path to fascism, just as it did before, and the next would-be autocrat is going to be a lot smoother, and will probably also understand how the government works. But people don’t want to think in these terms right now. People really want to bask in the nonexistent glow of a new day, and to feel like we’ve won — and almost like they have to keep honoring and protecting the idea that we’ve won.
EJ: I think there is this is the part of me that’s just done a lot of organizing around violence. People want to know when they’re safe. Right? So when people say “we won,” or the need to feel like we have one and there is a permanent defeat, like this will never happen again, I think there’s just a lot of fear that needs to be attended to, right? There’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of trauma and that’s what’s happening to our folks. Right? And, and so, similarly to you, I think of neoliberals is like the neoliberal response to like a justice request is like, “That’s so nice, but that’s just completely unreasonable. It’s just completely impossible. But you can meet with me about it and you will, and you can send your letter here and we’re really trying, but you know, these Republicans, right?”
Like, and then like people just play that game, and play that game, and play that game for years and years and years. And, and it’s a slow erosion of the gains that we’ve seen. Or it’s a slow erosion of social services and then taking over, but like through the proper channels. So because it’s through the quote unquote proper channels, and it’s less like — there’s a reason why it’s hard for many of us to define neoliberalism because it blends, right? Like it blends and adapts and takes over in a particular way. So all, all that to say is, if we could just reframe, “we’ve won” into “I’m tired, sleepy and scared,” then we can attend to that. Right? We can attend to that. Or “I want an end point because I need to know when it’s safe to mourn what happened last year, or the last four years.” Right? And so like, if we understand that there’s not a strategic end, there is a need for a pivot, but the right will keep organizing. And therefore, like, how do we take care of ourselves and each other to be able to continue to fight? Like I think that’s, that’s the need. And recognizing that like phrases and belief systems that it’s over and permanently defeated, don’t actually bring us anywhere closer to justice.
KH: So what do you find encouraging about the moment we’re in?
EJ: I have found the rise of mutual aid networks, incredibly inspiring and exciting. I found some of the electoral wins inspiring because of the sheer numbers of people that were engaged and the ways that people thought about how to do work, that is very like face-to-face in new ways. I feel excited because there are a lot of like big, kind of progressive formations that I’m very excited to watch and see what happens. I find it hopeful that there are some people who, it seems like, will take the need for us to create safety and security support, and particularly abolitionists safety insecurity support, for groups and individuals, seriously.
And I think there is a way that, because so much, there were so many systemic failures, there was, an incredible increase in the amount of people who were talking about and believing in committing to abolition and also committing to defund. And this is going to connect to what something you said earlier. Like if you don’t have relationships with people who are different than you politically, in some way, you don’t actually get the chance to politicize people, right? And build stronger movements. So one of the most exciting things that’s been happening to me all year was different people in my life, me not pushing them, but them saying to me, “Okay, what does this defund mean? Will you explain it to me? Um, cause I’m hearing it a lot. I might agree. I might not, but I feel like I can ask you my questions.” If we don’t have a left, where enough people feel safe asking their questions, we don’t build the size of the left, and we don’t always have a space that’s accessible to folks who have tremendous experiences of state violence and harm.
So I just think of like all the different people in my, you know, my mom is not always into transformative justice, and I think she read Mariame Kaba’s, op-ed in the [New York] Times, right? And my mom was like, “This is terrible!” And I was like, “But mom, you taught me to not trust the cops.”
She was like, “Yeah, but I just, we don’t need them!” And I was like, “Yeah, we don’t need them!”
And so that’s a political opening. That’s incredible. Right? And I hope that we keep building on that opening. And I also hope that, that we build… sorry, I just started think about the people I know personally who lost their lives this year. Right? And so I also hope that we build the space to mourn our loved ones and to organize the support that they deserved and that wasn’t there.
KH: I feel you and I’m with you, in that grief and in that hope. And I could not agree more that we need to create spaces for support and for care, and to process the enormity of our losses. And also to honor and appreciate people while they’re here with us. You and I have talked a lot, and complained a lot, about the people who didn’t listen, who called us names for trying to warn them for the last four years that we were dealing with a fascist, but there were some pretty great people who did listen, or who had been raising the alarm themselves, and who did organize and who did take really important steps to create more safety in their communities and to remove Donald Trump. And some of those people may be tired, sleepy and scared, but they are going to organize this year and take on neoliberalism. So as we wrap this season finale of the show, is there anything you would like to convey to those people, specifically?
EJ: Oh, my first thought was hugs and that’s hard now.
KH: So real.
EJ: It’s tremendous love. Right? It’s tremendous love because, there has been so much, people have been under incredible pressure, right? And unfair amounts of pressure. And I know so many people who just didn’t have enough support, whether it was that their organization was too small to meet the need, or they were the only one in their formation or their collective who had this [particular] skill, where all of our language and training around how to be healthy in this work didn’t fit their context, and they just kept going, while they were sick, and they just kept going. Right? And so to everyone who gave more than they probably had, or who like lost something of themselves in the process, it’s really hard to do the work that that many people benefit from when it takes a lot from you individually. Right? And there are never enough thank yous. There’s never like — you don’t get a big, thank you card. Like, “Thank you from the left. Here’s a gift card.”
I don’t know, like a fruit basket or something like, you know. Very often, thank you often comes in the form of like being trusted to do even more. And so I, like a lot of people, took a lot of risks because the other thing about knowing the context of fascism is that knowing that if there aren’t enough people speaking out, they will target every individual voice. Target and eliminate. So for people who held that and kept going and struggled to maintain, I am so grateful to be in community with so many of you and grateful for your work. And I will say thank you on behalf of the left, because there was tremendous labor and tremendous sacrifice that, and much of it is not seen, that, um, is helping a lot of people feel more ease right now.
And I think, I want to say like a real special, like, I’ve got a lot of like older, organizers in my life, and my favorite thing about like, kind of like, movement elders is that they’ve weathered enough to kind of really give me a lot of context, right? Like, “He’s to the right of Nixon. And this is why,” you know, and there were a lot of movement formations, particularly I would say the sixties and seventies that they just did a lot of political education, like more than many groups or people were getting now. And so I know a lot of movement elders who wanted to be like quietly retired, right? Who really, because I was in connection with them, they were like, “Whenever you need to talk, whatever you need, whatever I can do, however I can help, however I can support.” And so I think there’s also a piece where to the extent that we can remember that our movements are, and should be intergenerational, because there’s so much to learn from both folks who are older than us and folks who are younger than us. Right? But I think like I have, I have a really big thank you for folks who’ve just been in it for a really long time, so they’re real sharp at helping us all navigate the political terrain.
So yeah, maybe our next role can be thank you cards, Kelly, that can the next thing we do together. But I do think that one day we’ll be able to shower love on each other in the ways that we want to, and be in spaces together to be able to show up for each other. But I think it’s, maybe it’s, you know, as an organizer I always have to have an ask. So I guess I want all of us to think about what are the appreciations that we want to also give to each other and to ourselves for how we built our survival.
KH: I love that. I love that and I am just so grateful for you, Ejeris, for your work, and your friendship, and I can’t think of anyone I would rather wrap this first year of this show with, so thank you for being who you are, and for being here with me today.
EJ: Kelly, I am so grateful for you and for Movement Memos and for Truthout, and for you pitching and creating this political project as a way to bring light to all of us.
KH: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember, that the good we do matters. Movement Memos will be back in March, and until then, I’ll see you in the streets.
Police Abolition 101: Messages When Facing Doubts by Project NIA
Vision Change Win’s community safety toolkit “Get in Formation” is “a collection of security and safety practices we have been building and learning for years from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color movements within the U.S. Our teachers passed this information down to us through oral tradition and through practice in the streets. We built this toolkit in part to honor these generations before who relied on each other for safety, and to ensure this work is passed on to those who come after us.”
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Some episodes of “Movement Memos” that you may have missed, or that might be worth revisiting:
Previous episodes with Ejeris Dixon:
On fascism and far right violence: