“It’s time to get clarity and we can actively create that clarity. This is the time to find our alignment,” says activist Tanuja Jagernauth. In these challenging times, how are activists and organizers holding onto hope? In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with organizer and healing justice practitioner Tanuja Jagernauth about the maintenance of hope as a discipline.
Music by Son Monarcas, Jakob Ahlbom and Gavin Luke
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 organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer, Kelly Hayes. About a year and a half ago, my friend Tanuja Jagernauth and I got into a conversation about how organizers and activists were holding onto hope amid so much loss. We were both in pretty rough shape, at the end of a hard year.
We realized that, as people who abide by Mariame Kaba’s wisdom that “hope is a discipline,” we really ought to be trading notes with other activists about what the practice of hope looks like. Organizers regularly plan workshops and skill shares around tactics and theories, so that we might become more effective in our work. But what if our organizing is being hindered by the absence of something more fundamental? Despair and hopelessness have derailed plenty of activists who were not lacking in training, knowledge or political will. But hope is often trivialized or overlooked rather than cultivated, despite the fact that people and movements are likely to collapse in its absence.
“Hope,” as a discipline, helps us interrupt the stories we are being told and propose bold new directions. But what am I even talking about when I use the word “hope”? Because, much like the word “community,” the word “hope” gets thrown around a lot by people, including activists, who are not necessarily talking about the same thing. Some people equate hope with faith, but hope, as I understand it, is not grounded in any certainty or assumption. In fact, it only exists within the realm of uncertainty. Beyond the bounds of uncertainty, our hopes have either found some form of realization, or they have not.
As someone with a low tolerance for uncertainty, I often have to remind myself that it is not the enemy. As Rebecca Solnit captures in her work, uncertainty offers us a “spaciousness” in which to navigate, dream, fight and build. Uncertainty offers us space to cultivate hope, and ultimately, for all of the work we do. Because everything we are trying to build, accomplish and impart, runs counter to the ideas that dominate this society. The belief that those dominant ideas and institutions are inevitable insulates our oppressors from any major alteration from below. But as Assata Shakur told us, “a wall is just a wall / and nothing more at all. / It can be broken down.”
My own low tolerance for uncertainty is one of the reasons I read so much. When there is a gap in my knowledge that I find hard to tolerate — like, what’s going to happen next, in a scary situation — I will throw any semi-relevant information I can find into that gap. Of course, the gap in my knowledge does not close, because the unknowable remains unknown. Some people cope with uncertainty by becoming avoidant, and we have all seen how that turns out. From the pandemic to climate change, when people simply avoid processing world-altering stakes, the consequences can be devastating. So how do we change our relationship with uncertainty? And how do we renew our hopes when they are fading?
This is an important topic, but before we pursued it, Tanuja wanted to check in with other organizers. So she conducted a series of interviews and gathered some thoughts on how activists are interacting with the idea of hope and maintaining it in their lives. Because we are both organizers and our lives and schedules are ridiculous, it has taken over a year to start building an episode around all of this, but here we are today, talking about hope, and to be honest, I think this conversation is right on time.
So what is hope? Is it, as Emily Dickinson told us, “the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all….”
Is hope the fluffy bird that Dickinson described? Is it the spark that burns normalcy to the ground? And how do these ideas manifest as a daily practice? How do we enact hope? And how do we practice hope when we feel tired, discouraged, and perhaps even sorry for ourselves? As we consider these questions, I am so grateful to be joined by Tanuja Jagernauth. Tanuja’s exploration of how activists practice hope actually turned into something larger than we had originally envisioned, so we are going to spread this conversation across several, non-consecutive episodes. I think we could all use some real-world advice around the practice of hope, and the infusion of some good energy, amid all the difficult subjects we cover on this show. So I encourage everyone to sit back, put your feet up, or at least, unclench your jaw and relax your shoulders, and really take in the questions, insights, challenges and tools that Tanuja will be sharing with us today. We are going to talk about hope, how we practice our values, and tools for staying grounded. But first, we need to be real with each other and ourselves about where we are and what we are feeling. In the pursuit of hope, acknowledging our hurt, and the reasons for it, is a difficult, but necessary jumping off point.
Tanuja Jagernauth: The moment that we’re in currently is unlike anything that I have ever experienced in that on personal and collective levels, we are experiencing tremendous grief that has in some ways been acknowledged, but in a large part, it has not. And what we’re seeing is an active minimization of the grief and the pain and the fear that we face. We see that on so many levels, but I see it in the way that mask mandates were lifted. I see that in the ways that folks are having extreme difficulty accessing health care. I see that in the ways that workplaces are promoting coming back into the office and “helping” people to get over their fears of coming back to the office.
The business as usual from my perspective is painful, it’s violent and it’s part of the death-making that is truly terrifying to see in action because it comes with a happy face on it, right? It comes with sort of a shrug and it’s just truly deeply gaslighting to all of us. We’re seeing systems chug along business as usual. And when groups and individuals try to say, “Hey, timeout, press pause. We need to do an equity check or wow, my body is not what it used to be.” We’re actually seeing folks kind of perform a type of, “Oh, I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about.” And that denial and minimization I find is incredibly abusive. We’re also seeing a continued push toward what we think of as “Just Transition.” We’re seeing also a continued push for “Just Culture.” And Just Transition for people who are not familiar with it is essentially working to transform our extractive economy into a more generative economy where our labor and our bodies are not exploited and not viewed as disposable.
So I learn best by doing, so I decided to begin by listening to other doers, AKA organizers, and I wanted to ask them what does hope as a discipline look like in your daily practice? And I wanted to understand how are organizers keeping their hope intact in these times? So I put out a call for folks to talk to me and I’m so grateful for those who so generously shared of their time, their wisdom and experience. I want to say that the majority of the interviews I did took place in November of 2021, and they ended up being a real highlight of the year for me. 2021 was a year of deep personal loss for me. My dad passed away and I found myself in a place of lots of questioning, lots of grappling, and these conversations about hope really helped me to get clear and essentially keep it moving. So thank you all so much for talking with me.
So when we start to talk about hope, I want to begin with a little bit of real talk. Some people really do struggle with the concept of hope as we have most often encountered it in the U.S. via corporate media and other factors, right? chiara, when I spoke with them reminded me, hope can actually be used as an oppressive tool if it’s used to promote toxic positivity and a denial of our reality. So I really want to first ground us in the hope that we’re talking about is rooted in our realities. A member of the Hope Praxis Collective noted, “Sometimes hope feels so incredibly out of reach, especially with so many of my friends struggling to have a stable job, have food in their fridges and honestly, just to meet the daily needs that they have.” Another member from Hope Praxis Collective also said, “Hope has been difficult for me to resonate with because it’s been very tied to whiteness.”
And when I say whiteness, I’m talking about the white supremacy culture. And I find a lot of guidance and teaching from Tema Okun and their collaborators as they really break down the characteristics of white supremacy culture and how we can actually push back. Kristina Tendilla, when I spoke to them helped me to remember, when we’re talking about liberation, we really have to remember it is not guaranteed. Everything is hard, shit is scary. We are all tired. And at the end of the day, shit may not be okay. In fact, things actually might be worse after this period of time. We can see some evidence of that. So first before we jump into hope, I want to take a moment to really encourage anyone who’s listening to really just honor wherever you’re at. We want to make space to honor the opposite and the inverse of hope, however you define that or name that.
As we have this conversation, I would really invite folks to find a place to be grounded, to remember their breath, to really remember whatever you’re experiencing is normal. And I am delighted that through the conversations with these organizers, I hope to be offering some concrete ways to navigate all the feelings. I want to lift up a quote from Rebecca Solnit, “[Hope] is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. […] [It’s about] specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.” So there really is a possibility to be feeling whatever it is you’re feeling and also make room for possibility in action. Mariame Kaba writes in her essay, “Hope is a Discipline,” in her book, We Do This Til We Free Us, “Hope is not a feeling. It is not optimism. It is a practice.” And I found that concept affirmed by the Hope Praxis Collective.
They say, “The hope we have has some teeth because it’s abolitionist hope. It’s actively seeking to build a world beyond white supremacy culture and all its trappings laid out to us by Tema Okun and her collaborators. Our ancestors hoped for something different and hoped for return to systems where everyone was respected and had their needs met. We named our collective actually after hope as a discipline because we know that something else is possible than what’s currently being offered and what’s currently around. So for us, it’s just something you do. It doesn’t mean everything is going to be okay because I hope it does. It’s that practice though, of what we’re doing to connect with other people who are struggling against and connecting and building with our communities to make sure that everybody has their needs met. And so we can fight back against this violence.”
So what we’re really talking about is Praxis. And when I asked Hope Praxis collective if they could share their definition of Praxis, they shared this beautiful definition. “Praxis is theory in action. It’s where theory and practice come together, most often in organizing spaces. It looks like taking what is in your head or in discussion spaces and applying it for the material benefit of the collective.” And Hope Praxis Collective affirmed that there are so many people out there actually doing the work without even realizing that they’re doing it.
chiara shared, “Hope as a practice gets us out of stagnation and can be generative. It can create greater possibilities, help us expand our imaginations and drive change.” And a comrade of mine who was recently involved in a successful union fight shared that “Our collective praxis generated hope and that hope generated more praxis, more and different praxis, building power and tackling even bigger things because now we know we can.”
In our practice of hope, we need to get comfortable with our own discomfort, despair, fear and more because as organizers, we can only meet folks where they’re at with the depth that we have met ourselves. And we can only accompany others in their processes to the degree that we are able to accompany ourselves. I’ve learned this the hard way, but the lesson that I keep learning again and again, is that organizing is about relationships.
And we cannot be in relationship with others if we are not in relationships with ourselves. And that means embracing all aspects of ourselves, what some people might consider or call the shadow, what some people might consider the light, we need to embrace all of it. And Juli Kempner would affirm this. Juli says, “I don’t shy away from feelings of despair or hopelessness, which happen sometimes. For me to ignore them or pretend that they don’t happen is not helpful and I’m not afraid of them. When those feelings come up, and again, if you have some longevity in this, no disrespect to people who are starting out in the past few years, you have to develop managing these feelings as a practice.”
The Hope Praxis Collective reminds us that nihilism is absolutely something that we can experience. We can absolutely experience a feeling of meaninglessness or this idea that there’s nothing to live for, nothing to work towards and it’s okay to honor that, and also notice that those experiences are anti revolutionary in a type of way. We can actually ask ourselves when we’re feeling these feelings who potentially benefits from us feeling these feelings and stopping what we’re doing.
I have training in traditional East Asian medicine. And one of the things that we talked about a lot in this field is the concept of yin and yang. So I would really love to think about this notion from Grace Lee Boggs that a thing can and will become its opposite if it’s not tended to with care and intention. So our experience of hope, our practice of hope can 100% become its opposite. And so coming back to this idea of yin and yang, yin and yang are mutually transformative, which means the seed of yin lives inside of yang. The seed of yang lives inside of yin. So yin is anything that is dark, sinking. It’s often associated with feelings like fear, feelings like despair. But the seed of yang lives inside yin. And so the seed of hope lives inside of our feelings of despair.
If we take the time to understand exactly what it is we’re experiencing, spend some time with it, ideally with other people, we can find that seed of hope. chiara, in my discussion mentioned, they like to think about hope as beginning as a spark. So when we’re feeling bogged down or burdened, or when desperation is starting to sink in, the practice of hope can be a spark to help us navigate that moment and move out of it. Juli Kempner says, “The essence of hope is that we live in a world which wants us to normalize mass death through abandonment and violence. Hope mitigates against that, so it’s a daily practice. Sometimes for me, it involves prayer, it involves meditation, quiet and breathing. Exercise of any kind, walking, watching children play in a park, noticing flowers and water, all of these things, nature, music, art poetry, all foster joy, peace and hope” for Juli. And those things are the antithesis of despair for Juli.
And one of the most important things since the pandemic started has been the ability to find that quiet space in nature. It’s also managing expectations of the outcome of our actions. I just want to name, not everybody has ready access to what we consider nature. I also want to name, we are part of nature and nature is everywhere therefore, but what I really want to lift up is this idea of finding a way to expand our gaze and our attention a little bit outside of ourselves. I think of noticing and naming what you’re experiencing and drawing your attention to something that can potentially break your focus on the feelings of despair and also invite room for joy and the spark of hope. So what can be really lovely is building into your safety plan, a collection of things that you know inspire you.
That could be maybe a photo you keep at your desk, a living thing, a voice recording of a young person that you know, the act of making food and sharing it with others, going to an art museum, remembering your political lineage and remembering that you are part of a strong political lineage of resistance. I think about the usefulness of a gratitude practice. Sometimes even just writing down one or two things that I’m grateful for helps me to remember, because I do notice that when I’m experiencing the opposite of hope, I forget who I am. I forget where I come from. I forget my purpose. And so part of the practice of hope is finding a way to remember. Rebecca Solnit says, “Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act and that you can’t win.”
And then she also says, “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen. And that in that spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” And I really love this concept. This uncertainty scares the shit out of me sometimes, but I love the reminder that there is spaciousness inside of uncertainty. So Rebecca Solnit says, “When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes, you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimist[s] and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement. Pessimists take the opposite position, both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters, even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact are not things we can know beforehand. We may not in fact know them afterward either, but they matter all the same. And history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”
KH: For folks who are not familiar with “White Supremacy Culture” by Tema Okun, the document outlines characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in social justice organizations. These characteristics include tendencies like perfectionism, defensiveness, paternalism, individualism, fear of open conflict, the exploitation of urgency to avoid growth and confrontation, and more. I encourage everyone to check it out, because I have seen these tendencies destroy a number of groups in their infancy.
Like Tanuja, I sometimes take comfort in the fact that I do not know what will happen. As a strategic, analytical person, it’s easy for me to get caught up in my own analysis and predictions, and my own sense of certainty. Sitting with uncertainty, even though it scares me, helps me to remember that the world is much bigger than what’s going on in my head. There are so many life-giving possibilities, experiments and solutions that I have yet to learn about or engage with.
For example, I recently learned, while reading Peter Gelderloos’s new book, The Solutions Are Already Here, how the return of just one animal, the sea otter, has transformed dying ecosystems. Otters were nearly hunted to extinction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But in recent decades, sometimes on their own, and sometimes through reintroduction, otters have restored kelp forests and beds of seagrass, by reducing overpopulated species. Kelp beds are important carbon sinks and also help reduce coastal erosion. The restoration of seagrass, thanks to the return of sea otters, has even occurred in estuaries that were thought to be too polluted to see such effects. When I read that one displaced animal returning to its rightful place within an ecosystem had those broader, healing, cascading impacts, I felt so hopeful, and it’s a thought I plan to recall when I feel cynicism creeping in, because I never would have imagined it, and yet it is so.
To be clear with ourselves about what we do and do not know, and about what we are and are not doing, is so important in these times.
TJ: So one of the things that I learned from my conversations with organizers was once we are honest with ourselves, we’re clear about this moment of uncertainty, it’s time to get clarity, and we can actively create that clarity. This is the time to find our alignment. I really love the practice of doing a values check-in when I need to get clear. And we are so blessed right now, there are so many lists and tools that can offer examples of what a value is, right? But often values are kind of big picture concepts that we hold at our core. Examples could be justice, communication, transparency, and so forth. And so really taking a moment to do a values check-in with yourself and lovingly ask, right? Like, are my actions in alignment with my values right now? If so, how? If not, how? Living inside a white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy, our values and our actions will inevitably be in conflict. That’s my reality, at least.
And so I find it helpful to just keep on coming back to the values. You can always pivot. You can always return, pick up the pieces and take action that is more aligned with who you actually want to be in the world. And that comes with forgiveness and just lots of self-gentleness, right? As you keep on doing that practice. Kristina Tendilla shared in the practice of finding clarity, it can be very useful to use specific frameworks and tools. And a lot of people think of them as tactics. One of the tools that Kristina Tendilla recommends via the Midwest Academy and other organizing spaces is the tool of the power analysis. Taking time with your people and with yourself to examine what are the systems that we’re working with that are showing up in the issue that we’re facing, and then what are the actors in those systems that can be held accountable?
So when we think about a situation in those terms, we can start to build a strategy through our power analysis. And for those who haven’t done this yet, you can think about power showing up on three different levels, the individual, the group, and the systemic. In individual power, these are the daily practices that govern things you have agency over, control over what you wear, what you eat, what you listen to, what you do. In groups, we have power as well. And we’re absolutely so blessed to be receiving so many beautiful tools these days about how to effectively work in groups to build our power together. And then of course, we have power showing up on the level of systems, the education system, military prison-industrial complex, and so on and so forth. So really looking at power at all of those levels.
KH: I love the idea of power analysis as a tool for cultivating hope. Because often, when we are feeling hopeless, it’s because we feel overwhelmed. The forces that are causing us harm can seem so vast and unstoppable. But through power analysis, we can clarify for ourselves who is responsible for the harms we are experiencing, and who has the power to change those conditions. We can evaluate what leverage we might have, or who else might have some, and we can create strategic plans to challenge our oppressors, or to simply act in our own defense. Often, when I feel adrift, what I really need is a plan, so I love any tool that helps us get from that overwhelmed place to a more strategic place, where we know what we believe should happen, and we have a plan to bring it about.
TJ: Kristina Tendilla reminds us, we also can look back at historical examples of people getting strategic about how they were doing these tactics that were demonstrating power towards certain people who are decision makers. In history, there are so many beautiful examples of how people were directly impacted by issues. They were taking power to resist. And so we can actively seek and find those examples. They serve as a map and a guide for our work. chiara also shares, head to the toolbox and see what tactic, strategy or idea might apply to your current situation. And I personally love having a pantry of tools or you can think of it as a buffet. I don’t use all of these tools daily, but I just so appreciate that they’re there when you need them.
And again, we are so blessed right now to have access to concrete tools, abolitionist toolboxes, thanks and shout out to Mariame Kaba, Interrupting Criminalization and other groups that are offering us concrete tools in a form we can access any time. So take the time to get clear, take the time to access your tools, right, and really sit with what is going to be the right tool and the right tactic for this moment.
Personal tools that I like to use, first and foremost, I love the values check-in, and that is practice that I do on a regular basis, not every day, but when I’m honestly feeling lost. Inspired by an article from Psychology Today, I actually just created a tool for myself and it includes lists of values that I want to strive to embody, but it really just asks myself to choose three, three values that I want to embody and circle them. And then spend some time by asking, “Okay, how did I do this week? I embodied value one by doing what? I embodied value two by doing what?” And so on and so forth. The tool also asks me how I did not act within my chosen values. So “what did I do that took me outside of that practice?” The question I also ask myself is, “When I acted outside of my values, what was the value that I was actually reflecting?” So when I sit with that question, what I notice is when I behaved a certain type of way, most often I was enacting a value that comes from white supremacy culture. And I can sit with that and I can also make a commitment to do better and that’s also part of the tool. So it asks next time I will “blank.”
And the tool that I use also makes a little bit of space to ask myself, “what would help me better embody my values and what are some concrete actions that I can take to get closer to embodying my values?” This definitely helps me to remember that this is a process and that there are resources out there that I can reach for. So that’s one tool that I like to use. I check in with myself in regards to the characteristics of white supremacy culture on a daily basis. And Kelly, I’m a planner geek. And I have a section in my planner in the very back of it where I have two sections. One section is space to literally identify which characteristics of white supremacy culture showed up in my daily behavior. And then on the flip side, which antidotes to white supremacy culture was I able to practice with others? And I’ve been doing this since 2020 when I had the wonderful opportunity to find the Tema Okun article that outlines the characteristics of white supremacy culture.
And I learned a lot about myself and just how deeply ingrained white supremacy culture and dominant culture is in myself. So in this practice of self-awareness, I am able to show up better in the different spaces where I’m at. It actually helps me to check myself and create more space for inquiry when I see others behaving in a type of way that seems to be perpetuating white supremacy culture. Another tool that I really want to shout out is the In It Together framework for conflict transformation in movement building groups. And this was recently put out by Interrupting Criminalization in partnership with Dragonfly Partners. And I cannot recommend this tool enough for groups who are working to build PIC [Prison-Industrial Complex] abolition. It makes space for us to understand and learn about common sources of conflict. It actually shares some diagnostic tool questions so you can understand the nature of the conflict that you may be experiencing together.
It helps with groups that want to create grounding agreements amongst themselves, and in general, create a better, stronger container for the work that they’re doing. And ultimately, the ability to hold space for conflict and work together to move through conflict, transform conflict, and come out on the other side for me is so fundamental to making it through this moment. We’re seeing conflict showing up on so many levels inside of our groups. And I think this really, I can’t say it enough. It’s so fundamentally important that we press pause and take the time to grapple in a principled and loving, accountable way, holding ourselves accountable, holding each other accountable because we really do need each other more than ever. And you know what conflict is doing currently, it is tearing groups apart from the inside out.
And so within organizations, those who are embracing Just Culture are asking, “How can we really create more actual equity in our daily practices?” And at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, where I have the honor of serving as the Just Culture and Operations Director, we ask questions about capacity. We ask questions about how can we reduce the overall workload so that we can actually transition toward a 32-hour week for our organizers, because we are fundamentally embracing the moment and we’re acknowledging we remain in a pandemic. And in Little Village, it remains a community that is targeted, that has been fundamentally disenfranchised. In a city that’s supposed to be Chicago, City in a Garden, it has so few green spaces. It has so many transportation distribution and logistics centers, right? It is so fraught with industry and remains so.
And so we acknowledge the fact that our community, our base and our organizers are really grappling with this death making culture on a very deeply personal level, as they’re trying to do transformational work. Therefore, it is our responsibility to meet our staff where they’re at, meet our base where they’re at and honor the reality through better policies and better practices. To do otherwise is to perpetuate the death-making culture. And what I appreciate in the staff and the leadership at our organization is that we are trying to really hold to our values and the life affirming principles of environmental justice.
KH: I also do values check-ins with myself on a regular basis, and let me tell you, they help. This society has put us at a great disadvantage by conditioning us to believe that our values are basically features of our personalities — that we are either good people or bad people, and will act accordingly. But when we stop expecting things like patience to occur naturally, and when we stop reprimanding ourselves when they don’t, we give ourselves room to practice.
Staying aligned with my values helps me to maintain my practice of hope, and I really am hopeful about so many things. Even amid so much catastrophe, I see so much possibility and potential each day in the work of struggle and reciprocal care. I am regularly reminded that human potential runs in more than one direction, and that we have so much incredible work to do.
TJ: What’s giving me hope today is that I see every day, the people around me, the people that I work with every single day showing up again and again, to try to do better. I see us saying, “Okay, we’re not going to tackle the whole burrito today, but we’re going to tackle part of it. What part can I address today?” I find a lot of hope in that. And so concretely, what does that look like? When I have a meeting with somebody and we go through our employee handbook and we revise or remove language that may have remained there from a previous administration, and we replace it with more life-affirming, values-aligned language, that gives me hope. When we create space for one another to acknowledge our feelings, to listen to one another and witness one another’s grief and collectively move through our grief and rage and pain toward next actions and double down commitments to what we believe in, that gives me hope. When I see people putting out these wonderful, brilliant tools, that gives me so much tremendous hope because it’s just increasing our toolbox and it’s giving us just so much more to reach for in our moments of confusion and despair and fear.
The fact that there are just so many abolitionists right now saying, “Hey, you may be new to PIC abolition and there is room for you, welcome. And you have a place and whatever unique superpowers you bring, those are enough. Find a place in this movement for yourself and let’s get to work.” Right? All of those things help me feel hopeful. I really want to leave folks with the idea that because we’re living through a truly unprecedented time, there is so much fear and there’s so much uncertainty. And let’s remember the idea that we get to experiment in this time. We can embrace the spaciousness of the uncertainty, and every experiment creates a crack in the way things are. Every disruption, every lesson learned, whether you succeed or fail in what you do is useful. And I really encourage everybody to give yourselves and others as much grace as possible. And to truly remember that there are more of us that want real justice than there are those who are death making.
KH: In The Great Turning, David Korten wrote, “When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. That is our current situation.” I think many of us can feel the truth of those words in this moment. The stories our society is telling about the pandemic have erased so much risk and loss, and have left so many people behind. Those stories have served as barriers to constructive action. They have also served as a barrier to solidarity and relationship building, as we are encouraged to take personal, rather than collective responsibility for our well-being and survival during an ongoing global pandemic.
A million people in this country have died of COVID-19, and over 6 million have perished globally. Our collective grief has largely been suppressed, as we are shoved toward a crumbling and deadly version of the normal we knew, and told to make it great again. The stories we are not telling, because we cannot bear to face them, are easily crowded out by our own daily struggles, the distractions dangled by the powerful, the fetishization of war, our country’s obsession with celebrity, and a digital webwork of escapism. It would be easy to languidly continue the capitalist death march, assuming that you would act, if only the world were more alterable.
For some people, hope begins with a rejection of the deadly norms being imposed on us. That kind of hope can be messy and chaotic, and it reminds me of a poem written by Caitlin Seida, in response to the Emily Dickinson poem I quoted at the top of the show. It begins:
Hope is not the thing with feathers
That comes home to roost
When you need it most.
Hope is an ugly thing
With teeth and claws and
Patchy fur that’s seen some shit.
It’s what thrives in the discards
And survives in the ugliest parts of our world,
Able to find a way to go on
When nothing else can even find a way in.
Those words resonated so deeply with me the first time I read them, because they described the kind of hope that has kept me alive at some of the lowest points in my life. A fierce hope. A hope that’s not to be fucked with. A hope that means business. I love both poems, but this artistic exploration of hope suits me a bit better than Dickinson’s, because my hope is definitely the kind with teeth and claws, that thrives in the discards. My hope has seen some shit, but despite all the beatings it’s taken over the years, it will not die. Because, as Seida wrote:
Hope is not some delicate, beautiful bird,
It’s a lowly little sewer rat
That snorts pesticides like they were
Lines of coke and still
Shows up on time for work the next day
Looking no worse for wear.
Tanuja wanted to give a shout out to the organizers who spoke with her for this effort and I would also like to extend my love, thanks and solidarity to this wonderful group of folks. Thank you for being you and for all that you do.
TJ: I was able to talk to chiara galimberti, who is an acupuncturist, organizer, writer, and graphic artist, Elsa Hiltner, who’s an organizer with On Our Team. They work for pay and labor equity in the theater industry. I spoke to Hope Praxis Collective in Milwaukee. They are capacity building collective organizing to provide support, practice, skills share and imagine new possibilities through abolitionist and transformative justice frameworks. I spoke to Bettina Johnson, an organizer with Liberation Library and other spaces. I spoke with Julie Kempner, an organizer with Survived And Punished. Nikki McKinney, who is a youth organizer. I worked with Nikki at the young women’s empowerment project. And I got to speak with Kristina Tendilla, who is an organizer with the Midwest Academy. And on background, I got to speak with a few other dear comrades, and I just appreciate them all for helping me really sit with this question.
KH: I want to thank Tanuja Jagernauth for talking with me about the practice of hope. I am really looking forward to parts two and three of this heartening conversation. 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.
You can learn more about Tanuja and her work here.
- In It Together: A Framework for Conflict Transformation In Movement-Building Groups
- White Supremacy Culture – Still Here by Tema Okun
- Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
- We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba
- The Solutions are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution from Below by Peter Gelderloos
- What Are Your Values? by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.