Need a break from doom scrolling? Kelly Hayes and Tanuja Jagernauth interrupt the aggravating suspense of Election Day with a grounding conversation about learning to inhabit uncertainty.
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. Election Day is here, and many of us are feeling stressed and anxious. In the last week, we have published four episodes of the show, in an effort to help people plan, prepare, and steady themselves for Election Day and the tumult that could follow. We’ve built these episodes around questions and requests from our listeners and I hope they have been useful. We have covered a number of topics, including safety planning, holding onto hope, and what to expect in the streets this week if you’re protesting. If you want to check out that marathon effort, those episodes will be linked in the transcript and the show notes on our website.
Today, we are going to talk about what to do with ourselves emotionally right now, because we are looking at a hailstorm of news, and even if we get the electoral outcomes we are hoping for, there are a lot of bad things that could happen in the coming days, and months, in connection with this election.
Our anxieties are countless.
We have also seen escalations from Trump supporters in recent days, with Trump’s fandom gathering around polling places and even attempting to swarm a Biden campaign bus and run it off the road. On Saturday, we saw Trump’s disturbing alignment with law enforcement on display when police used pepper spray to break up a march to a polling place in Graham, North Carolina. But we are also seeing cause for hope. As Leanna First-Arai reported on Saturday, in Truthout, “In Florida, North Carolina and Michigan — three major battleground states — voters under 29 have cast a combined 607,907 early votes, where the same age and geographic group only cast 76,829 ballots at the same point in 2016: an almost 700 percent increase. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by a mere 10,704 votes.”
We do not know what will happen, and it’s important that we learn how to inhabit that uncertainty, and how to be calm and effective in that space. So how do we do that? Our fears are valid and our coping skills… aren’t always the best. So today we are going to talk about how to face this moment, not just today, but tomorrow and in the weeks to come, because we have a lot of uncertainty and struggle ahead.
To have that conversation, I want to welcome back our friend Tanuja Jagernauth, who has previously joined us on the show to talk about collective grief, mutual aid, and how we can process the trauma we are collectively experiencing. Tanuja is an organizer, an artist, a circle keeper, and a dear friend of mine. Tanuja, welcome back to the show.
Tanuja Jagernauth: Thanks for having me, Kelly. I’m really happy to be here with you.
KH: How are you doing today, friend? Are you as involuntarily amped as the rest of us?
TJ: I’m definitely feeling that anticipation. But I’m one of these people, due to, I think, the various crises that I’ve been through over the course of my life, I am one of these people who gets super calm, and focused, and grounded as we are in a crisis and as the crisis approaches. So maybe a week or two ago, I was definitely super anxious, doing various scenarios in my head. Today, I feel more like I’m observing the situation and in a grounded preparatory mode, which for me means there’s a little bit of dissociation involved with that, but there’s also like, “Okay, this is what my system does in moments of crisis. We’re paying attention, ready to take action as needed.” That’s just where I’m at. How are you?
KH: I would say I am stressed and anxious. This is definitely a day, and a stretch of days, when I would normally be with my friends and co-organizers, in a physical space. We would be watching the returns come in, we would be reassuring each other, and making each other laugh, and sharing our fears, and while I know you can do those things remotely, I am one of those people who really hasn’t mastered those transitions yet, which I think is a lot of us. I am a really extroverted person in a lot of ways, as people have probably noticed, so I get a lot of energy and strength from being around other people. So, just to keep it 100% real, I am holding that, and, this is not an easy day, and I am eager to push forward my own practice, in terms of managing how I’m experiencing all of this. So thank you for joining me to grapple with all the things. I appreciate it.
TJ: Absolutely. Yeah. I thank you for making this space for real talk, Kelly.
KH: So before we dive into managing our feelings, I’d like people to understand a little more about some of the work you do. Because we do some of the same things and have launched some great projects together, but you are also a circle keeper, and I would kind of like folks to understand what that means as we enter this conversation.
TJ: Yeah, I can definitely talk a little bit about the role of a circle keeper. I really think about circle keeping as facilitation, and there are a lot of people out there who have these skills. So you are creating a container for a very intentional, focused conversation to take place. You’re coming to this circle, in this space, not as a participant, but really as a holder. So you’re doing all the things that facilitators do, you are hearing different perspectives, you are listening for commonalities, you’re listening for conflicts, you’re trying to create synthesis. And for people who want a little bit more context and grounding around that, I definitely would reference Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown. I would also honestly reach out to facilitators around you that you know, people who you go to their meeting and you feel held. I definitely would learn from the people around you who are facilitating.
I practiced acupuncture and traditional East Asian medicine for about 10 plus years and then, in 2016, I closed Sage Community Health Collective, which was the Sliding Scale Wellness Collective that I co-founded with three other people. I quit my practice to transition toward practicing healing justice in a more collective manner through, one, creative practices like theater, storytelling, but two, trying to really lean in toward transformative justice and prison abolition through the practice of conflict resolution, community accountability. And that for me, involves creating circles.
KH: And we are grateful for that, because your energy and insights are really important to your fellow organizers right now. We are getting mad at each other and we are crying a lot, and we need circles. We need grounding.
TJ: I want to give a quick thought on the frameworks that I’m grounded in and that I will bring into our conversation as I have been able to internalize them and embody them, which is not perfect. So I do bring in a healing justice framework, which is all about collective practices that help us to really intervene on those impacts on our bodies, minds, and hearts from the various systems of oppression that we’re living in.
I also bring in myself as a student of transformative justice. I feel like I’m always learning how to better practice it and live it, same with prison abolition. So I am learning constantly about how to practice it, prefigure the world we want to live in and also grapple with real life everyday stuff. I also, because I’m a former acupuncturist, I do bring in the frameworks of traditional East Asian medicine, which really are grounded in ideas of yin and yang, pushing back against binary thinking, which I can maybe talk about more, but seasons and nature are a big part of our framework. So nature warning.
KH: When Tanuja and I were talking about what we could talk about today that might be helpful, we talked about the reciprocal care we are all going to need in the days ahead. We talked about safety plans and grounding exercises, and we talked about how we, and others, often suggest that people turn to their friends and loved ones for support during these times. We often tell people, “You have people(!)” and remind them to have conversations about safety planning, and how people like to be comforted when they are afraid, and all of that. But something that came up for us, when we were talking about that advice was that some people don’t feel like they have people. That may be because they are truly isolated in various ways, or it could just be the product of the chaos we are all experiencing right now. A lot of people are running on fumes, and that can make it hard to ask for the support we need, because we don’t want to over-burden the people we care about.
We also talked about how being part of an activist community gives us strength, and how lucky we are that, when things get hard, we’ve had opportunities, over the years, to sit down in a room, and listen to each other, and troubleshoot, and brainstorm about how to get through it. Now, we have to do a lot of that remotely, but many of us are still building that plane if flight. So we thought the best thing we could offer today would be a Movement Memos version of one of those sit downs with you all, our listeners.
We are going to address some of the messages we’ve gotten from people, who have reached out to the show, or to us personally, about their fears and what they are going through, and try to support you all, if these are feelings that you’re struggling with too. This is not therapy, or a substitute for therapy by any means, but if you think it would be useful to sit down with us and grapple with some things together, we are here to grapple.
So the first concern I want to tackle is the one I just mentioned, that some people feel completely alone right now, like they have no one to lean on. For whatever reason, whether there are actually people in their proximity or not, they feel completely alone and isolated, like there’s no one to help them process what they are experiencing. If we had a friend or comrade in the room expressing that struggle, what might you say to them?
TJ: Yeah, being completely honest, I have been in moments like this and I still find myself, at times, feeling this way, and so while I may not know exactly what this person is feeling, I can definitely relate to feeling completely alone, scared, and like I don’t have anyone to lean on. I do think there’s something about this that implicates our culture and our society and so on and so forth. But the fact of the matter is when you’re having this experience, it’s crushing, it’s isolating.
A really quick story I want to tell, if that’s okay. So in 2016, when I closed Sage, probably in April, it was one of these days when… In Chicago, March, April, the weather is kind of iffy until June, maybe. Anyway, it was one of these really chilly kinds of days where it was windy but also bright, just confusing on the body. Anyway, I was walking South on Milwaukee [Avenue] and I was in exactly the state where I truly felt very alone. I didn’t know what the future would really bring for me. I felt like I didn’t have anybody really to lean on and I honestly felt numb. I truly, at that time felt like I don’t know that I will ever feel anything different ever again.
So I’m walking South on Milwaukee between Diversey, Belmont and Diversey. Anyway, and I see in front of me, this young person pick up this little bird. He picks it up and he starts chasing his friend with it, and the friend runs off and the young person dropped the bird in the middle of the sidewalk. I ran over to the bird that was just disoriented, sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, and I just guarded the bird and I started crying. I’m like, “I have to do something for this bird.” And as I’m sitting there crying, and the wind is blowing on my face and it’s super cold now, because it’s cold and it’s windy and it’s wet on my face, and the sun is now shining on my face, I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m feeling something” and I started laughing. So it was just one of these moments where it was like, “Okay, this is a moment where I’m having sort of the opposite experience of what I ever thought I would feel.” I did have someone I could call. I called them in that moment and we worked on the bird situation.
But anyways, what got me through that period of time and what has since gotten me through periods of time like that are really a couple things that I want to offer as frameworks. In traditional East Asian medicine, we do think about individual people can have seasons in the same way that the earth can have seasons. And one of the things that we say a lot is as above, so below, and how I interpret that is there are ways in which we are little microcosms of what is going on in the bigger picture for better or for worse. Sometimes in our life we can have these seasons, and sometimes in a day we can have these seasons.
So that particular time in my life I would think of is winter, where the trees are barren, everything has slowed down, things can feel and look a little bit bleak. And yet, this is the time when there is a lot of activity under the surface of the soil, and it’s actually a really necessary time for our earth and ourselves to go through before our spring comes and we can re-emerge.
Anyway, so that was my winter moment. And I think giving ourselves the permission to have seasons can be helpful. So not expecting ourselves to be in summer time, or spring time even, all the time.
KH: I love it. Sometimes our minds make hard turns, and we have to figure out how to negotiate with it. I am definitely someone who struggles with managing and tempering emotion, and I really rely on my ability to sort things, and to systematize things, into actions I can take or things that I think need to happen. I always say that preparation is my meditation, because I am most at peace when I feel like I am doing everything that can be done around a concern I have. That’s my calm place. People sometimes call on me a lot as a troubleshooter in organizing work, and I think that skill set largely evolved out of my task-obsessed fixation with working the problem, whatever the problem is. So it’s a skill set that has had benefits for other people, and definitely for my work, but there’s also this massive flaw with that approach, which is that I don’t always know what to do, and that sometimes, there is nothing I can do.
So when you find your calm in figuring out what you can do, and what you wind up figuring out is that there’s just nothing you can do, that’s a wall. And when I slam into that wall, it brings up trauma. Because I have a catalog of those moments in my mind, and they all have a timestamp — which is a moment when I realized there was nothing I could do. Those moments, when I realized that I couldn’t even try and fail, and take comfort in having tried — sometimes, in those moments, I will literally start repeating to myself, out loud, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do” as though that’s the most mystifying and frightening thing that could ever happen, and I sometimes need to be reeled in during those moments by other people. But people aren’t always there and we don’t always feel like we can unload on them, so I also keep certain books and recordings close at hand, things that help me pull myself out of my thought glitch and back into something larger. And for me that brings to mind something you talk about sometimes, which is the importance of keeping “good words” close by.
TJ: So I keep around me just touchstones and language for moments like this, and one of the touchstones that I’d like to reference is Medicine Stories by Aurora Levins Morales, which is a collection of essays. And there are honestly so many other writers I could name right now, but if you have words around you, language around you… and honestly, Kelly, your podcast, I put into this category of good words. One, you’re a tremendous writer. Two, you communicate ideas really, really well and the guests you bring on are on point, but also, I personally have really appreciated “Movement Memos” podcasts. I’ve learned a lot.
There’s other podcasts out there too. What are those sources of good language, good words that even if you have a hard time believing it, what can you read? What can you try and replace whatever narrative is going on inside your head with momentarily? I know it’s really tough. Sometimes we can be the generators for ourselves of the good words.
Since I was a young person, I have kept a journal, and most days it’s really just like, “I did this, I did that. This happened. So-and-so blah.” But honestly, in my worst moments, the most isolated moments, I have come to my own journals, notebooks, just to self-witness. And when I’m in this mode, it’s not about, “I’ve got to feel great. I’ve got to whatever.” It’s not about anything. It’s really about like, “Here is where I’m at. Let’s not think about how we got here. Let’s not think about how it used to be.” If you find it useful to write that out, that’s cool. But I really begin with just, “Here’s where I’m at.” And you can describe your physical situation, your emotional situation, whatever it is. You can talk about what you want.
But for me, I do experience a shift. I believe, I’m not sure, but I believe that I go from like that, like for me, sometimes my more reptilian fear-based thinking or scarcity thinking or fight, flight, freeze mode into a bit more clarity, which I associate with my frontal cortex. But I often experience a shift, and the shift is all we need, right? I hope that makes sense.
KH: It absolutely does. The last time you were on the show, we talked about grief, because that’s something you and I have organized around together, in terms of getting people’s needs met, and in terms of commemoration and resisting the further normalization of mass death. With the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project, we have helped connect folks who are grieving during the pandemic with free services that they need, with the We Grieve Together memorials, we have tried to hold onto the value of life, as the death-makers try to further normalize mass suffering and death. And so I am thinking a lot about how grief is showing up for people in this moment, and it shows up for all of us differently, but I definitely want to name that everything we are experiencing, every level of it, no matter how insular it might seem, is woven through the reality that we have lost hundreds of thousands of people to COVID-19 this year, and will lose many more. And I know that’s hard, but it almost feels worse not to name it. Because I feel like there’s a lot of that. A lot of refusal, and it’s not helping.
TJ: I do want to also think about and offer whatever you can do in this moment to be a companion to yourself is awesome until this moment, until this stage or phase changes. Just as an example, in 2015, my best friend passed away. It was definitely life-changing for me. She was basically a sister. And because of just how things go, I wasn’t invited to be a part of the post-death practices. I definitely was in a moment where I needed to kind of grieve on my own. And the thing that I did, as ridiculous as it might sound, at the time I thought, “This is ridiculous, but I have to do what I can do,” I would literally walk around Humboldt Park and take photos of trees.
My friend had given me a paperweight. It’s like a glass paperweight from the Shedd Aquarium with a green jellyfish inside the glass, and I did a photoshoot of the paperweight next to trees. It was this whole thing. And I posted these photos on Instagram and somehow that brought me a sense of peace and closure and this notion of self-companionship. But then I was able to share out the images and whoever wanted to connect could. But it really wasn’t about that. It was more about me marking this moment for myself and being that companion to myself.
And I hate that the best thing I have to offer for someone experiencing this is, is this idea that could sound very much like, “Oh, that’s some self-care stuff,” but I definitely need to say my capacity to witness myself and be a companion to myself and really hold the complexity of my own emotions, it helps me to be a better community member. Pema Chodron actually talks about this. We talk about healing and healing is vague and weird. I don’t even know what healing is, but she has some good words around this.
KH: I am so glad you found that practice. I also created some rituals around my father’s death that were just for me, in my own space, and on my own time, and I definitely needed that in my life, and still do. This is one of the reasons I think grief practices, both personal and collective are so important right now. For the sake of our own hearts and minds, and I also agree that those things make us better community members. I think we have to defend the parts of ourselves that feel those things, and that need to feel those things. I think we have to defend those parts of ourselves the way we defend our lives. Because there are a number of wars being waged right now, and one of them is a battle over what death means. And that war is not just being waged in the media, or at protests, or at the ballot box. It’s happening inside our heads. In fact, that’s ground zero as far as I’m concerned. And we have to defend that space, we have to defend tenderness and empathy, and if that sounds hippy-dippy to some of you, that’s probably just because you’re not comfortable with your own emotions. But that’s okay, I’m not either. We will get through it together.
The next concern someone raised that I want to address reads, “I can’t stop imagining all of the terrible things that could happen. I can’t stop envisioning these things happening to me, and my family, and to other people. It keeps me awake and makes it hard to focus.”
Tanuja, if we were in the room with someone who opened up and expressed those feelings, what would you say to them?
TJ: Yes. This person is me. This person is me a couple weeks ago, for real, for real. Like I mentioned, I may not be in this moment right now, but this describes something that I have definitely experienced very recently. Great. So first of all, the part of you, the part of ourselves that goes there, I think, is a genius. And so I just want to have some appreciation. As horrifying as these visions are, there’s some real genius here. And in that, this part is able to envision scenarios, break down how things might play out. The gift is that from these visions can come action and certain ways to prepare, blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth.
So my instinct on this is to honor the great imagination, give this part of ourselves some gratitude, recognize that this imagination and this part of ourselves isn’t all of us. So thank you to this part that can go there. That’s really courageous and that’s super dope. And can we find a way to channel this imagination toward a different direction, whatever you want to do? And I’ll talk more about that later, but then I also want to look at the physical situation. In this particular question, the person mentions this is a nighttime phenomenon. So it’s keeping me awake. And then I completely can relate. Okay, didn’t get sleep. So then, the next day, you’re unfocused and off your game and it can create this really beautiful, delicious cycle. Okay. I don’t know anything about it. Just kidding.
So then this is really a great moment to call upon our biology awareness. So there are the ideas which, thank you to Lisa Fithian, who raised this at a recent webinar I got to attend, there’s this really beautiful framework on our regulation, thinking about our physical and emotional regulation. So Lisa mentioned this kind of hyper-regulation moment, which includes all of our fight, flight, freeze behavior. Okay? This is also connected to this notion of this might be the time when we’re not our best selves. We might go into control mode. We might go into snapping off on people around us, whatever it is, but it also could involve this imagination that is super focused on all these things.
So how do we down-regulate to a more centered place? Okay. You’re not going to feel 100% perfect, but how do we, again, do the shift? There are some physical practices you can do. Right? And I think about, look, I track my water every day. I have a little part in my journal, I’m like, “Did you drink two things of water? Did you eat three times a day?” So checking in on the basics. Snacks, blood sugar, that sort of thing. I think about breath. I think about breathing. How much oxygen am I giving my body and my brain? I, Tanuja, I get this tone and I can hear it now.
And when I take the tone, that’s when I’m like, “Hey, T. Do you need to check your posture? Hey, did you eat recently? You’re taking the tone.” And I’m not trying to tone police people over here. I’m just saying, when I hear, there are certain indicators I think we all have. So that’s just one of my indicators. So know your indicators. Anyway, so when I hear this indicator, I’m cruising for a bruising. Time for a timeout. Right? And it literally can be a moment to be like, cool, take a walk over there. Look at some trees. Practice some abdominal breathing, whatever it is.
In terms of the actual thoughts that you might be having in this moment, what I find helpful … This may not help you, but again, it goes back to externalization. So how do we take this mass of thought and externalize it, witness it, maybe break it down, and then see does that create some kind of shift again? I haven’t talked about mind mapping yet and I really want to. It’s a tool that I learned, thank you, from Passion Planner where, if there’s something really massive that is just looming, you write that thing down in the center of a piece of paper, you circle it. And then, from that center circle, you can create branches.
So I literally, Kelly, I have a page in my journal that is just like white supremacy fuckery in the middle of the page in a circle. And from that center, okay, I created little bubbles that are like, “Here’s how it’s manifesting here. Here’s how it’s manifesting there. Here’s how it’s manifesting there,” and so on and so forth. From each of those little circles, there were more branches.
What this helped me to do was to be like, “Oh, okay. This actually reminds me of this one job I had. This reminds me …” So it’s kind of like that moment … I miss whiteboards, but it’s like that moment in really cool meetings when you get to throw it up on a whiteboard and then you can organize things, whatever. That’s what I do. It really helps me. You might notice actions emerge from this practice, things that you can do alone or with other people. You might also notice something to be like, “Yeah, that’s not mine. That’s not my problem. That’s going to have to be them,” speaking about white people.
Yeah. And then, for anybody who is … I just want to name and celebrate, if you’re in this moment, any shift that you can make in that imagination that is a shift away and that might be a shift toward generative possibilities, so on and so forth. That’s a win. So I want you to celebrate, if and when you get there. Absolutely, yeah. I completely can relate to that.
KH: I feel like how I consume information has an impact on this for me. I am very pro having access to information, and I love the internet, but doom scrolling, and hitting refresh constantly, and then getting angsty with each other, is not going to get us through this. But it’s difficult, because the tension we’re all experiencing is real, and we simply weren’t built to process traumatic news at the rate that we absorb it. That’s always true, but it is especially true today.
Taking in the information we need, without losing ourselves in the noise requires intention. The Trump administration understands this. They understand the rapid fire of the 24 hour news cycle keeps our heads spinning. That helps keep us frustrated, impatient and ineffective, instead of galvanized, grounded, and ready to fight from a place of strength. Our eagerness and anxiety aren’t necessarily a measure of what should happen, or what will be helpful, so let’s hold and remember that too, because impatience is a weapon of our enemies. And they plan to use it. Because what the GOP is hoping to do is create enough chaos that people will accept an outcome they know isn’t just, so that we can move on and have some semblance of normalcy, even if the GOP rules over that normalcy. So we need to create our own coherence. The mainstream is not going to give us that. An algorithm is not going to give us that.
We’re all going to do some scrolling today, myself included, and I may tweet an unhealthy amount. But I will not be reliant on scrolling for my updates.
Anyway, I know we could go on with this all day, but we have limited time, so I want to wind down our conversation with a concern that I think a lot of people are struggling with, which is that it’s very clear that a lot of people see Trump as the whole problem, and it seems likely those people will disengage politically, if Biden takes office. In the run up to elections, we always experience a lot of shushing around our issues. Black people, Native people, disabled people — really, everyone who is chronically abandoned or abused by the Democractic Party — are told, as elections near, that we need to quiet down and only say good things about a candidate we know is going to screw us over. We are tone policed. We are lectured about strategy by people who know absolutely nothing about strategy, or electoral organizing for that matter. We are told to wait until the better candidate takes office. And then, when the dust settles, those people are gone. So what do you say to people who are frustrated right now, because they feel like they are doubly screwed, and having to act in solidarity right now with people who will probably abandon them later. As one of my friends put it, “They will be gone, and we will still be up against an empire that’s trying to kill us.” What do you say to someone who is trying to ward off that sense of despair?
TJ: Yeah, absolutely. I want to really affirm how much this hurts this idea. And for me, when I’m sitting with that level of hurt around the persistence of empire, imperialism, and the way colonialism continues to show up and impact us today, I really try to think about… We are, already all of us, all of us who are committed to liberation and freedom and prison abolition, we are already carrying the torch of those who came before us. We’re also carrying the torch of those who’ve been around us and whose guidance and tools we may not have acknowledged until now.
And the work of pushing back against empire, imperialism and colonialism, it’s going to continue beyond our lifetime. And that does hurt. At the same time, I really hope that we can all think about this idea of cumulative creativity. And I got this idea from Aurora Levins Morales. She asks us to think about every single creative thing we do in the face of this time of destruction. Every single thing we create is a contribution to the overall ecosystem of resistance. And you know, when I can offer with humility is, yes, this hurts. We are tired. We are so mad. There’s so much we’re doing that we really shouldn’t have to be doing.
And you know, the work also will include doing what we can to feel our feelings, take those breaths because we’re going to continue seeing fuckery and the fight will continue.
So, back to this idea of seasons and being open to change. I would invite all of us to, one let’s think beyond our own lifetime, let’s keep on reading history, learning history, and grounding ourselves within a lineage of resistance. Let’s keep on pushing this work forward. It’s valuable, whatever we do, as it is framed within PIC abolition, Black lives, Black liberation, right? And allow yourself the flexibility to be dynamic in what you offer the resistance. Right?
So, I will admit this is definitely hard to like suss out and figure it out in the moment, because no one is really going to tap you on the shoulder and be like, “Hey, Tanuja, we need you here doing this blah.” So, there is a moment for you to be creative and intentional in that, look at the skills and talents you bring, look at what is needed, and jump in. And it is cool if you have to change the way you contribute or what you contribute.
I know that the way that I was showing up at 22 is different from what I was offering at 32, and it’s going to be different, what I offer at 42, I can already feel that change. And that’s okay. What I’m trusting is that whatever pieces I hold for a moment and then put down, hopefully we’ve all done the work of sharing information, doing political education, et cetera, so that someone else can pick up that thread, so that I can pick up another thread and carry that one forward.
KH: It is so deeply important to ground ourselves in history, and the stories we are carrying forward and building upon. I would also love to challenge us, all of us, right now, to remember that there are also lessons and histories playing out here and now, in the most neglected parts of our society, and in other parts of the world, that we can build upon and learn from. We have so much to learn from prison organizers, who know how to find hope and alignment under conditions that most of us consider unfathomable. There are Indigenous people around the world, defending all life on Earth, and those people are living for the work, and sometimes dying for the work — and a while back, when a student asked me if I am ever afraid… I told her, I am regularly afraid. I am regularly stressed and anxious, because I’m human and I’m aware of my surroundings. But when I feel like the walls are closing in, I think about those struggles, and I remember that there are already people who are dying so that I might live. There always have been. It’s not my ancestors who I owe a debt. So I try to ground myself in that sense of global struggle, of global solidarity that I know we need to build, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, imagining those things makes the world bigger. And the walls that were closing in aren’t there anymore.
Also, you know, I just want to name that I have organized under neoliberals and now under a fascist, and friends, we will build power under a neoliberal administration, if that’s where things land. Of course we will. And as we have seen in the last four years, the dominant politics of a nation don’t shift simply because conditions are deteriorating. More people living in fear, and more people suffering, has not yielded some liberal and leftist army that’s ready to slay the right-wing and prevent austerity. And we have gotten tripped up, over the last four years, by a lot of the same things that liberals and the left have gotten tripped up on since forever. Conflict without containers for conflict. COINTELPRO. Oppressive dynamics replicating themselves in our movements. Liberals and moderates being afraid for the last four years has not changed that. What we need, if we are really going to change everything, will come from us. And that transformation, that’s going to be worth fighting for. The mere dream of it is worth fighting for, just like these oppressive systems exist in and outside of our heads, so do our dreams, so long as we are fighting for them.
And with that, Tanuja, I just want to thank you so much for this conversation. It did me good and I hope others feel the same.
TJ: Thanks, Kelly. It’s always great to talk to you and keep these conversations going.
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. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
This is the last episode in our “Movement Memos” election week marathon, which began because some people wanted a sequel to this piece about trying to create pockets of safety in these times. A number of people said they wanted to hear more about safety planning. We didn’t really have time in the schedule to make that work, so we just started making extra episodes.
First, we made an episode that walks people through the process of writing a safety plan.
Next, I had a conversation with Sarah Kendzior to lay out the authoritarian dynamics we are up against.
Then, we made this short episode about holding onto hope and about the world-building poetics of organizing.
On Friday, we shared this episode, in which Shane Burley and I discuss what you should expect in the streets if you protest this week.
If you’ve already checked those out, dig into Vision Change Win’s Get in Formation toolkit. This resource is a collection of security and safety practices “built by years of learning in the streets from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color movements within the U.S.”
If you’ve already checked out all of that, good for you.
Here’s the Chicago Police Department’s “Crowd Control Behavior” training curriculum. There are other leaked, or legally acquired, training documents out there. You may even be able to find one associated with your city. But the Chicago Police Department utilizes official protest guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and the US Army, so the practices detailed here are not limited to Chicago. Crowd control tactics could be very relevant in the coming days. It’s important to understand how they operate. This document was recently acquired by Buzzfeed reporter Caroline Haskins.