“Get with your people … and just take a second to appreciate yourself for the ways in which you are surviving a truly unprecedented time,” says organizer Tanuja Jagernauth. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Jagernauth and host Kelly Hayes discuss the work of cultivating hope amid catastrophe and how activists can craft a vision for action.
Music by Son Monarcas, Viriya and David Celeste
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. This week, we are continuing our discussion about the practice of hope, and how we can put our hopes into action. The first installment of our series on hope, featuring Tanuja Jagernauth, garnered an unprecedented response from our listeners and readers. I have always appreciated it when people reach out with feedback on episodes, to explain what was helpful, or to let us know that they shared an episode with their class or with relatives. After Tanuja’s last episode, entitled “Hope Isn’t A Given. We Must Cultivate It Together,” a whole lot of people reached out to say, “This was exactly what I needed right now.” During what has been an unnerving time for many of us, a lot of people found Tanuja’s insights and advice to be emotionally grounding and instructive. I can’t tell you how happy it made Tanuja and I to have worked on something that people found helpful during this difficult time. And what made us even happier was knowing that Tanuja would be back for two more installments. Well, this episode is part two of that whole situation.
In part I, we talked about getting clarity, finding alignment, and utilizing tools and practices that can aid us in our personal practice of hope — and I do recommend circling back, if you haven’t checked that episode out yet. But we know that hope is not something we are trying to cultivate and keep to ourselves, or even just share in small groups. We are trying to keep ourselves fired up for the larger struggles we face, and that means, in addition to trying to practice hope in our own lives, we are trying to bring that hope into our projects, communities and campaigns. Because our goal, as activists and organizers, is not simply to feel better, but to bring our visions of change to fruition in the world. Today, we are going to talk about that process, and how we can begin to actualize our hopes in our work. I am so grateful to be joined again by my friend Tanuja Jagernauth, who is a touchstone in my own life. Tanuja is an Indo-Caribbean playwright and the operations and just culture director at Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. She is also a practitioner of healing justice with a background in Traditional East Asian Medicine, and someone I love to collaborate with on mutual aid projects.
When I am unsure of myself or a project, or when I am just not seeing things clearly, Tanuja is one of the people who I trust most when it comes to visioning, troubleshooting and reframing a problem. She is someone I turn to when I need to figure out my next move, or even, sometimes, my next feeling. So, as we all grapple with a great deal of stress and uncertainty in this moment, I am so glad to offer other activists and organizers the opportunity to turn to her as well.
Tanuja Jagernauth: Thanks so much for having me back Kelly, and thank you to everybody who’s back to listen. So, the too-long-didn’t-read version of anything that I have to share today can be summed up in a bit of text from a Facebook post, actually from Mariame Kaba that she wrote on April 8th of 2020, and Mariame shares, “You should take on the actions that you do because, at bottom, you believe that they are worth doing. I don’t know if the outcome of what I’m doing will be capital F freedom or capital L liberation. I think that the actions I take are worth doing in the present because they are a manifestation of hope in the day-to-day. They remind me of my and others’s humanity.”
So last time, thank you, Kelly, I had the chance to start sharing the wisdom from activists and organizers that I got to talk to about how they’re practicing hope in these times. And last time, we focused on the need to embrace our discomfort and uncertainty as those experiences tend to contain the seeds of our future actions and can be a way out of despair and hopelessness. And we also talked about getting clear, finding our alignment, getting rooted in our values, and also studying history for clues and guides and how we might take action as a practice of hope.
So, today, I’m going to be sharing a bit more wisdom from activists, organizers, and writers about what hope and action can look like. I want to share a quote from Rebecca Solnit: “To hope is to give yourself to the future. And that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.” When I was talking to Chiara Galimberti, she reminded me that what’s beautiful about the practice of hope is that it helps us to project ourselves and our minds into the future a little bit, and it helps us to presuppose the idea of change.
So, that practice, it gives us a little bit of break from the present moment. And is it advised that we spend all of our time in that space? No, but it can be a really helpful thing to take some time and really do the work of visioning. Albert Camus writes, “Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” So, the way that I interpret that is we need to take some time before we take action to activate our imaginations and take some time to dream.
I am really inspired by Poka Laenui. He is a leading voice for Hawaiian independence and an international advocate for Indigenous people. And he put together a document called “Processes of Decolonization.” And in that document, he shares the teachings of Virgilio Enriquez who’s a Professor of Psychology and an advocate for the integrity of native wisdoms. Professor Enriquez calls the dreaming state of decolonization actually the most crucial for decolonization.
In this process, he recommends all possibilities need to be explored and debated. You need to consult with the people most impacted by the issue that you’re working on and allow space and time for ideas to generate other ideas, so that you eventually build a foundation, a solid, clear vision that can really guide any future action. And he really cautions folks to not cut this process short by just jumping to action. I know that sometimes that’s what we do when things feel really urgent, but there’s an opportunity to press pause and ask, “Have we really fleshed this out enough. Have we brainstormed enough? Have we considered all the possibilities and really created a clear concrete vision?”
I want to invite us all to think about what if we thought about the things we create as alive. I do think of the things we create as living things. So, if you accept that idea and want to entertain that idea, you don’t want to force your idea out into the world before it’s time. Thinking about birthing a human being, right? You need to give that human being enough time to gestate before you birth it.
Another image that might be helpful is I think about people who grow things: plants, trees, fruits, vegetables, things like that. You don’t want to just plant a seed or anything in the wrong type of soil. I’m not a gardener, but I read about it. I listen to people who grow things, and I really admire them. But what I know from them is you need to take the time to cultivate the soil that something is going to grow in for the thing that you’re trying to grow in it. So, if I’m trying to grow a succulent, a desert plant, I need that soil to be right for that succulent.
It needs to be aerated. It has to include enough drainage, right? It’s going to be a little bit sandier, so on and so forth. I’m not going to plant a succulent in the same soil as I would plant a basil plant. So, anyway, you want to take the time to make sure you’re cultivating the vision that is appropriate to what you’re trying to create. And I know that this goes against some of our training and some of our upbringing that really invites us to practice urgency.
But back to the teachings of Professor Enriquez, when we don’t take the time to fully visualize completely what we’re trying to create, the goals that we eventually set, they might be shortsighted. And our measure of success may be potentially materialistic, potentially unrooted in our actual values. So, you really want to make sure the vision you’re creating is deeply rooted in your community, your people, your values, your vision.
It’s important in the process of dreaming to make sure that the folks most impacted by an issue are involved actively in that process. So, we’re not going to perpetuate colonialism and White supremacy dynamics by dreaming up a dream for another group of people or for another person without consulting with them. I really want to make sure we clarify that. So, we’re including the people most impacted by an issue as we do our dreaming process toward the creation of a vision.
And sometimes this is going to mean we have to educate ourselves and educate one another. A lot of the people that I spoke to, they talked about the power of education and it made me think of something that Mariame Kaba always says, which is, “Keep reading.” I love the practice of popular education, which is rooted in the idea that each one teaches one. So, using the language of Paulo Freire, we can all take on the role of a progressive educator. And in some cases, we really need to.
The idea rooted in popular education is that each of us is the expert in our own lives. And sharing our lives, sharing the experiences of our lives with one another can build intimacy. It can build community as you’re building a collective sense of vision together. And I really just want to take a second to shout out people who hold space for storytelling, allowing people to come together to share the complexities of their lives and to be witnessed and to be affirmed.
KH: Holding space for storytelling, and for people to share the complexities of their lives, is a deeply underappreciated aspect of movement work. I am someone who can easily fall into the trap of being so task-oriented that I can forget that nourishing our souls, and replenishing ourselves emotionally can’t be an afterthought. There was a time in my work, for example, when my friends and I would do marathon prop builds, or have long, stressful meetings, and our way of balancing that stress and that output was to go out drinking afterwards. I am sure a lot of activists can relate to this pattern, and I am not saying it’s bad to go out drinking with your friends and co-strugglers after a hard day’s work. There’s nothing wrong with that. But looking back, I can see how, in some ways, we were treating our humanity as an afterthought. And it was an afterthought that did not include everyone, since not everyone was going to hit the bars or wherever we went. It’s not that we did not deserve or need that space for letting off steam, processing, laughing, celebrating, or making joy together. We did. But everyone in the group needed that, and we also weren’t making space for it in a structured, intentional way. Since then, I have learned that we need to create those kinds of outlets within our organizing containers, in addition to whatever else happens outside of them.
One example, from my own work, includes Mariame Kaba’s Poetry as an Anti-Violence Intervention curriculum. On a recent organizing retreat, I walked members of my collective through the curriculum, and we held a poetry circle — a discussion of Joy Harjo’s Bourbon and Blues. It was my first time leading the exercise, and I quickly noticed that the format gave people the ability to simply comment on the poem itself, or to become more vulnerable, and relate the material to their own lives or the work we do. As our youngest member said of the experience, “I didn’t expect it to be that deep.”
We also talked about the ways that trauma can impede our imaginations, and how stopping to engage with this poem together was a way of coaxing our minds to play, which is essential to any visioning process. To tell stories together, to play with words together, to explore our relationships to the struggles we engage with — all of this enhances our ability to cultivate hope and take meaningful action in concert with one another.
TJ: I want to share a quote from Paulo Freire from his book Pedagogy of Hope. “One of the tasks of the progressive educator through a serious correct political analysis is to unveil opportunities for hope no matter what the obstacles may be.” Nikki McKinney, who is a youth organizer with Street Youth Rise Up, shared that in Nikki’s practice, they would invite young people to come together and to learn together.
And a lot of times, Nikki shared, young people would show up and they would show up with a sense of hopelessness. And they would honestly ask, “How is this all supposed to change anything?” That was a huge question that Nikki heard from people a lot. And over time through collective education, popular education, really inviting people to honor the expertise of their own lives, people eventually saw the vision that they were all trying to work toward. And those young folks had a chance to participate in creating the vision.
And so, Nikki says, “It’s not about convincing others to see your vision. It’s more so about educating folks enough to where they can see the vision in their own lives, through their own perception, because nobody’s looking at it the same. We are all different.” Building on that idea, Kristina Tendilla shared that for Kristina, being able to engage with their own history was really important in terms of later being able to build a vision.
Kristina shared that it was really helpful to her to be in spaces that encourage creativity, that encourage critical thinking, and expansive thinking. And Kristina really has a lot of gratitude for the people in her life, not just in the education system, but just people in her family and community who created spaces that affirmed her experiences. And moving forward, Kristina was able to go ahead and affirm the stories of others. This type of work is so important.
The Hope Praxis Collective, they actually took a very similar approach to education, and they are an organization that focuses on transformative justice in Milwaukee. And what they noticed was that there was just a lot of confusion in their community about what transformative justice was. And so, they saw that opportunity to get everybody clear. So, they decided to start doing public education about transformative justice and to be a resource for organizations that are interested in solutions to conflict and violence that exist outside of the state.
One thing that they shared that I really appreciated was that they wanted to just start small and then grow bigger. And I just really loved that approach. Starting local, starting with the people that you’re in community with. So, using education, engaging in education, popular education rooted in the lives of your community can really help create that vision that can take you toward action.
One thing that Kristina Tendilla shared with me is that our visions often begin with our desires. So, a question that Kristina would pose to people is: “What world do you desire?” And I love that question. And for those of you listening, who are interested in how do you even begin this process of dreaming? That could be a really good question to ask.
I also want to share a world-building exercise that I was lucky enough to hear from Kristiana Rae Colón, who’s an abolitionist, playwright, and the co-founder of the Let Us Breathe Collective. It’s interesting that the world building exercise that I’m going to share, Kristiana was sharing this in the context of playwriting, but also, we can use this type of activity as we organize and as we create projects with our comrades.
So, the exercise from Kristiana is as follows. Kristiana says, “Breath, get into your body, imagine a world without police, without prisons. Visualize it. You can think of that as small or as large of a scale as you want. So, perhaps think about a globe without militaries, a nation of blocks without squad cars, a county without a sheriff. Think about the fact that a lot of communities already live within abolition. There are certain neighborhoods like Winnetka that you don’t see police patrolling the way that you do on the south side of Chicago.”
“So, when we think about it, abolition is not that far-fetched of an idea for some as it may be for others. Imagine if all communities got to experience the absence of harassment, the absence of policing. What would that smell like? What would that sound like? What conversations would you overhear in a world like that, in a community like that, in a block like that? Keep breathing and imagine what this would be like. Try to see yourself move through a world like that.”
If you have some paper and a pen, you can “make a list of five sounds that you conjure when you imagine a world without police. Make a list of five smells you would encounter in this world. Make a list of five textures or things you might feel on your skin. Make a list of five things you might taste in this world. What do you want to eat in a world without prisons and police? Make a list of five people that you want with you in this world.” And again, that is a world-building exercise from Kristiana Rae Colón, a playwright, and co-founder of the Let Us Breathe Collective.
And I really love that kind of exercise. It gets us concrete, and it can set us up very well for eventually taking action and making our plans for action.
KH: I have talked previously on the show about organizing as a world-building process. Those of us who believe in the need for transformative change aren’t simply trying to tweak this fucked up world we are living in, we are trying to build something entirely new. I was actually talking to Ruthie Gilmore about this recently as it relates to storytelling in television shows, which I love. Everyone who knows me knows I love TV. I probably watch too much of it. I love TV, and I will tell you, I also love historical dramas. The costumes, the dancing, the fight scenes — I’m a sucker for all of it, from Jane Austen ripoffs to Vikings wars. But I also love fantasy shows that are set in completely different worlds with their own made-up histories and laws of nature. And to me, it sometimes feels, with some of these historical shows, that bare almost no relation to actual Vikings, or whatever historical figures they’re depicting, like the writers had a whole other world in mind that they just didn’t take the time to build. Maybe they never fully dreamt up that world, or maybe no studio would pay them to make a show about it, so they crammed new stories into old worlds where they don’t fit or belong. As entertainment goes, that’s usually fine, since most of us watching either don’t know or won’t care much about the deviations from reality. Professors and history buffs might get annoyed, but most people won’t care. But I do often wonder how much better some of those stories would have been, if they existed in their own worlds, on their own terms.
In the real world, when the stories we tell do not connect with the realities of peoples’ lives, or how they understand themselves, that can be a problem. They may dismiss us out of hand, or worse, resent us, because they don’t think we appreciate what they’re up against. Sometimes, we need to invite people on a journey with us, to remake the world, such that our visions can ultimately make more sense to them. Prison abolition, for example, sounds scary to a lot of people, because in their minds, they are trying to map the absence of prisons and police onto this society, as it exists now. A society where it may be hard for them to imagine feeling safe. But if we invite people on a world building journey with us, to imagine a world where everyone has health care, where everyone has food, a place to live, and support networks to tap into, if they feel unsafe or need an intervention, the idea of not having prisons starts to seem less far-fetched. If we give people the opportunity to participate in creating microcosms of that world, or securing policies that move us toward it, we can help them to see that our visions are possible, and also, worth inhabiting.
TJ: Kristina Tendilla shared more wisdom around creating a vision and the dreaming process. And she advises, “You want to connect your personal vision with the collective vision, with other people.” So, again, to the best of your ability, connect your work to others. Kristina shared, “Having a vision can keep us grounded in making sure that the communities that we’re building are not recreating systems of oppression in their smaller spaces.”
And I think that this is so relevant to what a lot of groups are really struggling with and grappling with right now. Kristina shared, “There’s been so many times where I’ve been either in myself or working with a group. And if I wasn’t focusing on that vision, then it was easy to feel burnt out or feel like, okay, we are going in the right direction.” So, that vision can be that guide, that compass to make sure you can come back to again and again. So, it’s great to articulate it. It’s great to get it down on paper before you even do a thing.
Juli Kempner, who is an organizer with Survived & Punished in New York, says “Hope for me is the vision. It’s a prelude to a sense of something better, something very different, something most likely very radical. It involves possibilities. It involves imagination. And then, to a certain extent, it involves a plan as to how are you going to get from point A to point B because otherwise, we are human and we run out of hope.” So, this is our segue into making a plan for action.
What this means is we spend some time, we get creative and we build a plan now to actually try to realize that vision. Kristina shared, “I think that building a plan, we have to understand, we’re not sure if it’s going to work out or not, but we try. And then, we ask every day, how do your everyday tasks or actions line up closer toward your vision?”
That is important because it helps us keep grounded. And it can also help us address feelings like burnout and pessimism. So, I definitely want to shout out to all the planners out there. And I know that there is debate around process versus structure versus taking action and what is the work. I really want to invite us all to really embrace planning as part of the work, intentional community-grounded planning as part of the work. Our work needs a container. And we are truly once again, so blessed right now, y’all, that there are so many toolkits available to us to help us build better containers.
I really want to recommend, if you go on the Barnard Center for Research on Women’s YouTube page, you’re going to see videos from Dean Spade on how to do some of this work together in a more liberatory way, on decision making, on mutual aid, on how to talk about money. Once again, I want to lift up the In It Together toolkit, a collaboration between Interrupting Criminalization and Dragonfly Partners. It is just chock-full of ideas and guidance for how to build that container.
I want to say about planning, especially if we’re working to make plans that we’re hoping lead to cultural change and eventually PIC [Prison-Industrial Complex] abolition: Our plans are going to change. Change is the only constant, lifting up Octavia Butler. So, we do have to make plans that are flexible and that are adaptable. It’s A-OK.
I personally really love the practice of mind mapping. So, on a blank piece of paper, you get all of your wild ideas out. You put in the center of your piece of paper in a circle the thing that you’re trying to do, and then connected to that center goal or center idea or center desire, you make yourself think about, “Okay, what is this going to take? And what am I thinking? What are my fears? What are my hopes? What are the tasks?” And once you get all that wild brainstorming out with yourself or with ideally, a group of people, then y’all can go back and figure out, “Okay, what’s the first action? What’s the second action? Oh, this idea needs to be broken down even more. Let’s go ahead and break it down.”
So that what you eventually create is a list, a somewhat linear list of all the actions you’re going to take. And then, y’all can go into your calendars and map it out in your calendar so that you might be able to build a six-month plan that can keep you accountable, that can keep you moving along the journey toward achieving a particular goal. It’s just really important to get all these things on a calendar. And I know that some people might be listening to this and rolling their eyes. That’s truly okay. I say try it anyway. [Laughs]
And then, once you have this written up, out of sight out of mind is real. I know that is real for me. So, post your vision, your plan, your work plan, whatever you want to call this. Post it some place where you and your team can see it. And go ahead and designate a rotation of people to be the calendar steward or the calendar fairy who can be like, “Cool, let’s check in on our timeline.” You don’t want to set one person up to be that person. It can get sticky.
But one of the things that I want to also share is that it comes down to having realistic expectations and your planning tools can help you really like, once you’ve created that huge brainstorming list and you actually try to map it onto a calendar that can actually help you prioritize and say, “You know what? We brainstormed a beautiful plan and a beautiful set of things that we really want to do, but checking in with our actual bodies and the actual amount of time we have this year, let’s be selective. Let’s be discerning.”
KH: When Dean Spade was on the show in March, we talked about how burnout, which is something a lot of people have experienced in the past couple of years, is about more than exhaustion. For a lot of people, in addition to being wiped out, burnout is tied to conflict. People’s boundaries may have been violated, or they may have crossed their own boundaries, for the sake of the cause, or the group, and feel angry or regretful about doing so. People can feel targeted, blamed, abandoned, underappreciated or misunderstood, and when those feelings get bound up in exhaustion, we get what a lot of people wind up characterizing as burnout. One thing I have noticed, as new groups and formations take shape over time, is that very few organizations put time, training or practice into addressing conflict. Often, the work of processing conflict is not considered until a group is on the verge of collapse. By that time, most people are not in a charitable mood and the debate may be spiraling into new depths of severity on social media. At that point, groups often start reaching out to orginizers like me, asking if we know anyone who can moderate an organizational conflict, and the truth is, those people are usually busy, because so few people have gotten the training and conflict is so inevitable in virtually every group.
TJ: In your plans, I think it’s really important to plan for conflict to arise, plan to address it. Plan for the time that it takes to really acknowledge and hold a little bit of process for small conflicts. Plan for periods of rest. Think about your plan — back to our work is a living thing, make your work seasonal. It can be seasonal. You do not have to be working together at a summer pace all year long, right? Embrace winter.
I live in Chicago. And in the wintertime, our bodies, they naturally just want to move at a slower pace. What would it look like to really honor that pace? What can you still get done together during a “slower time”? That can be a really beautiful time to get some rest, take some time to reflect, take some time to discuss, do more of those internal activities at a time when maybe people aren’t as keen to be getting out there in the weather.
Plan to make mistakes. Plan to apologize fully for them, and then plan to pivot and take different actions. Plan with clarity about roles. Plan with clarity about boundaries and clearer expectations. Plan as transparently as you can. And this does really invite us to have a little more intimacy with one another around our actual capacity and what’s really going on in our lives. Plan with the idea that this project that we’re working on, or this group, this may not be forever.
If we do decide to hold onto the idea that our projects and our formations are alive, we can also hold space for the idea that all things that are alive do die. And the most beautiful thing you can do when something is dying is to allow it to pass on with as much dignity and grace as possible, honoring it in all of its complexity.
In terms of groups and formations that deal with money, don’t leave anybody in debt. Don’t leave anybody holding the bag of debt. So, plan to talk about the money stuff. It’s definitely hard, but you do have to do it. We are trying to build a whole new world. We really do need to be courageous and talk about stuff that we’ve been programmed to avoid or invisibilize or delegate to professionals or whatever it is.
And this is an opportunity to also think about the administration of a group, think about the operations of your group or your project. We do not all have to have tons of administrative skills and operation skills. But it is really awesome if more folks can take on that labor. So, what that means is sharing the labor of who sets up the Google Calendar invitation with the Zoom link included, who does the meeting reminders? Really ask yourselves like, is there a pattern to who is taking that labor on?
Really check your group or check yourself if that labor is often just being taken on by a Black or Brown femme. Really ask, how can we share the load of holding this container? So, I want our plans to involve sharing the load and creating the container together. So, I know there was a lot of stuff, but this is all the stuff that I think is really important to think about before we jump into taking action. So, thank you for entertaining me on that part.
Taking action rooted in our hopes is one of just the most beautiful things we could do. And so, hopefully, we’re at the point we have a vision, we have our people, we have our container. Now, let’s get to work. So, as we start thinking about taking action rooted in our hopes, rooted in our visions and our dreams, I want us to hold onto the idea that there is always something we can do. Quoting Paulo Freire, “Hopelessness and despair are both the consequence and the cause of inaction and/or immobilism.” When I talked to Chiara Galimberti, she shared with me that when she thinks of hope, she conjures the image of a spring, one of those coiled-up metal things. And I loved that image. There’s expansiveness there, but there’s so much potential, and then there’s movement in there, right?
There’s always something we can do. We can always push on that spring and find potential energy. Hope Praxis Collective shared with me, “Hope is something you do, and it’s something that’s been practiced as long as violent systems have been around.” And I’m so grateful that they shared with me this, “Even if we reached that timeframe within which we aren’t able to reverse things anymore, there’s still things to work for.” So, they shared with me the image again of a hospice care type of situation.
So, they say, “Even if we reach that stage, thinking about climate change, thinking about any situation that we’re impacted by and noticing, even if we get to the hospice care stage where something is dying, we can still make things better in that time for the people who are still here and around us. There’s always ways to make things better, and there’s always ways that we can take care of each other.” We can look around right now and already see everyone around us deserving so much better than what is being offered.
The opportunity there is that we can come together and create that for one another. When I was talking about action with the folks I interviewed, Kristina Tendilla shared with me so wisely that as we take action, “we need to keep in mind that things may not be okay” eventually. Honoring the idea that things may not be okay even if we do take action, it’s actually really anchoring for Kristina.
Therefore, the need for people to be a part of the movement and take care of one another mutually, whatever way they can, that is going to keep our community together. That is going to keep our hope alive together. So, what I’m trying to say is care work with one another is action. We need to invite other people into this work. And I’ll talk a little bit later about what folks had to say about sustained action.
KH: I can really relate to what Kristina had to say about how the idea that things might not be okay can be anchoring. My belief that everything I am doing is worthwhile, come what may, is absolutely essential to my practice of hope. I am fully capable of envisioning the world I want, but I am also capable of imagining worst case scenarios, and to be honest, I do so much research around the climate crisis and the far right that, if I did not believe the fight was an end in itself, I would probably lose my mind. But I get out of bed each day knowing that the mutual aid we practice, the policies we fight for, the people we work to get free, the relationships we build, and the art and joy that we make together, are all worth living for, and fighting for, here and now. Because my hope is not only for the future. It is for the present. It is for our experience of each other, it is for the meaning, purpose and love that we embody as we move through the world. It is for all the things we make possible by doing so, and I will tell you, I have been around long enough to know that the impacts of education work, healing work, organizing and action can be downright incalculable.
But as Tanuja reminded me, even with the best of intentions, we do need to be cautious as we practice solidarity.
TJ: As we’re talking about taking action, I really want to lift up a reminder with all the love in my heart that all action is not equally awesome, especially if you’re thinking about your actions, “supporting or helping others.” We really want any action that we take to be actions of solidarity and not charity. And it’s really important going back to taking the time to educate ourselves and each other, learn the difference between solidarity and charity. There’s a lot actually out there that has been written.
Kelly, you yourself contributed to The Solidarity Struggle. It’s a beautiful anthology about what solidarity looks like in practice. But some things that I’ve gathered over the years from brilliant organizers I’ve been able to work with and witness and learn from is the power of listening. Begin by listening. When folks came together to create the very first Healing Justice Practice Space at the U.S. Social Forum in 2010, I believe it was, principle number one of our shared agreements was, “We begin by listening.”
And so, we want to ask if you’re a person with position of power or relative privilege, ask: “How can you show up in service to those most impacted by an issue and really listen?” And I don’t know where everyone’s coming from. So, I really do recommend: check out statements and principles out there that have been around for decades. So, check out the Jemez principles for Democratic Organizing. Check out the Sins Invalid Principles of Disability Justice. Check out the Combahee River Collective Statement, a pillar of Black feminism. Check out the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona from the Zapatistas and other statements and manifestos from communities that are practicing resistance to White supremacy and capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, ableism, and all those systems of oppression. And again, I want to lift up, like we are living in an incredible time. We have access to Mariame Kaba’s book of essays, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us. We have Ruthie Gilmore’s writing. We are so blessed with so many texts right now that can help us get our minds and our work grounded in PIC abolition.
And we can always shift our work, pivot our work to get to the really real root of what’s going on. And again, please consider the people most impacted by the issues. I think about climate change and I see a lot of people really embracing environmental justice and climate change work and so on and so forth. And I just want for all of these people to remember, we cannot talk about climate change and not talk to the people most impacted by climate changes in this country and abroad.
So much more to say about this, but I’m going to say it finally and one last time, we really need to show up and listen and learn from the people most impacted by the things that are going on. And if I may, Kelly, I just want to lift up as an example the recent abortion clinic fundraiser that Mariame Kaba participated in, and that just took place. So, Partners in Abortion Care on April 7th. They posted on Twitter an ask to the community to help fund their clinic. They set up a GoFundMe, and their goal on April 7th was to raise $250,000 for a community-funded clinic.
And on May 3rd in their GoFundMe page, Partners in Abortion Care, they updated the fundraiser and they shared the message, and I remember that day and they stated, “We are angry, disappointed, and deeply saddened by the leaked SCOTUS draft decision that overturns Roe v. Wade. This has only made us more determined to open our clinic as soon as possible.” And yeah, just remembering that day. I do remember just feeling and noticing that collective sense of shock and horror and the beginnings of despair when we all saw that leaked draft decision.
But then, on May 17, Mariame Kaba then dropped a Bonfire fundraiser that offered four different t-shirts that were designed by Anna CF. And the t-shirts read, “Let this radicalize you,” and “Not one minute of peace.” The Let This Radicalize you t-shirt is, of course, a segment of Mariame’s own words, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.” And Mariame invited folks to buy the shirts and take pictures of themselves in their shirts. And that became just a beautiful joyous event on Twitter, right?
And Mariame also sold embroidery that read, “Hope is a discipline,” and posters that read, “A world without prisons,” and “Prison is not feminist.” And so, in that, Mariame invited people into an action they could take, invited people in to spread these concepts and these ideas that we really need to see affirmed and repeated again and again in the face of despair. And then, 20 days later, due to a collective beautiful response, on June 7th, Partners in Abortion Care announced that they had surpassed their goal of raising $250,000.
It’s incredible. It’s incredible. In one month, they met their goal and surpassed it. And that is the power of collective action. And that is also, I wanted to lift that example up as an example of someone taking positive, creative, generative action and bringing others in to support and really show solidarity with a project that is put together by subject experts who have done the labor of visioning and dreaming and doing this work in a grounded kind of way.
KH: Seeing that clinic fundraiser come together was deeply inspiring. I was grateful to Mariame Kaba for offering us small actions that we could take, like tweeting or donating or buying a shirt, and the opportunity to see how those actions can culminate into something so much bigger. A new abortion clinic is going to exist because so many of us, in so many places, grabbed onto this story and this mission, in our own small way, and contributed. I think there’s a really important lesson in that. An abortion clinic will be exist, not because one person did something heroic, but because a whole lot of people, in a whole lot of places, took whatever small action they could, in order to urge it into being. I want us to think about all the ways that can look, because we have the potential to create so much together, and we have a world to build.
Right now, we are experiencing a great deal of erosion and collapse, in terms of the norms and systems we are used to. Those norms and systems were always oppressive and harmful, but right now, the worst of what this society has to offer is being ramped up, and a lot of us are scared. It’s okay to be scared and honestly, it makes sense to be scared. But it also makes sense to be hopeful, because our creativity, our relationships, our courage, and the care we extend to each other are all manifestations of human potential, just as surely as anything else is. And as Tanuja emphasized, this is a time to immerse ourselves in those relationships, and in that potential.
TJ: This is a great time to get with your people basically. So, get with your people, hold space for whatever is coming up, whether with a facilitator or with one another. And I really recommend the Clearing Circle that is in Fumbling Towards Repair written by Shira Hassan and Mariame Kaba. The Clearing Circle can offer you a very simple structure in which you can hold space for naming what hurts, naming what you wish was different, appreciating one another, and anything you shared with each other and talking about next actions.
So, get with your people. And I would invite you to use that as a template for a space that you hold for one another. And don’t shy away from anything that you’re feeling and experiencing. And if you’ve never held a space like this, please do it with others. It’s a really great opportunity to practice your facilitation skills, practice your container-holding skills, and really be present with one another.
I think, in this moment, I go back to this idea that the path we’re on is a really long road. And once again, it’s really important to listen to the people most impacted. Kelly, thank you for doing the episodes you’ve done already on how folks can show up in solidarity with trans youth in this moment, I think it’s really important to be listening to those stories and taking any positive action that you can that is inside of your wheelhouse, and inside of your capacity, and inside of your skillset toward what is needed.
And then, I would say, give yourself breaks as needed as well. I don’t think that our brains and minds and bodies are built to process all of this super, super well, especially considering the fact that we are still in a pandemic. So, please allow yourself the time and space that you need to process to take a break from social media and to do whatever it is you need to do to get clear. Remember your values and vision. Remember the long-term work that we’re all doing together toward a world without policing and prisons.
And you do what you can, but again, as much as possible, try to get with your people, try to get with the people that you share values with, that you share trust with. Try to keep on checking in on people who are impacted by everything that’s going on to the best of your ability. It really is a lot to manage. It has been a lot. It is going to continue to be a lot. And so, we really do need to honor the pace that is going to actually work for your body and for your being.
And in the next episode [of this series on hope, which will air in August], we’ll talk a little bit more about that and what that could look like. And there’s so many tools and resources available to us, and I just think about different people who do different healing modalities in community. There’s just so many different options.
KH: As we wrap things up, Tanuja had one last message she wanted to share with people who are hurting or frightened in this moment in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe.
TJ: I just want to say something that not everybody has the opportunity to hear from others, and that is that your experience of this moment, whatever you’re experiencing, it’s right and it’s real. And I want you to honor whatever it is that you’re feeling and experiencing. Your journey, your way into the work of liberation will be unique to you. And that’s okay. To the extent that you’re able, don’t forget your people. Don’t forget to try and connect with those people that you share values and a vision with, whether through direct communication or through books, through writings.
Reaching out can look like messaging somebody, but it can also look like picking up a book that inspires you, or that reminds you of the better world that we’re all working to build, and the better world that folks have been working to build for centuries at this time. And just remember any action that you take is part of that. And you come from a long line of resistance and survivors. And just take a second to appreciate yourself for the ways in which you are surviving a truly unprecedented time.
KH: I mentioned earlier in the show that my collective did a poetry circle around Joy Harjo’s Bourbon and Blues. The poem is about Harjo’s time in an Indian Residential School, the friends she made there, and how they resisted the violence of assimilation. The poem resonated with members of my group in different ways, some more literal than others. Personally, as someone who has survived a few things, I find the closing lines of the poem especially meaningful. Harjo wrote:
We were wild then.
I will always remember that night far south
Of town where we sat at the bar after our escape.
You had gone to war and become a painter, poet and singer.
I was a poet, mother and I was learning how to sing.
We talked history, heartache, the blues and what it means
To be an artist with nothing to lose, because we lost everything,
here, at the edge of America.
That poem makes me weep, and it also makes me hopeful, because it reminds me that we have the capacity to survive these systems, to break free of them, to chase our dreams and fulfill our potential. Amid the mass shootings, the overthrow of the electoral system, the fall of Roe, and the unvented grief for millions of lives cut short — our capacity to rogue, and resist confinement, premature death and subjugation is still there. God knows the state has tried to rob people of it, but they have never succeeded. No matter what horrors they have visited on people, we resist, we dream, and we fight. So let’s get with our people. Let’s talk about history, heartache, music, and what it means to be organizers and activists who can face the world bravely, because we have already lost so damn much “here, at the edge of America.”
I want to thank my friend Tanuja Jagernauth for joining me again to talk about putting hope into action. I also want to reiterate that these episodes are a truly collaborative effort, featuring insights from a number of organizers and activists who Tanuja interviewed, and I would like to extend my thanks to them for contributing to this episode and for all that they do. Tanuja will be back in August for the third installment of our series on hope. We have one more episode of this, our fourth season, which will air next week. 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.
- Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators by Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan
- The Barnard Center for Research on Women hosts a programming series that explores a wide range of feminist and social justice issues like women’s rights, gender and sexuality, democracy and voting, immigration and economics. You can check their videos out here.
- In It Together: A Framework for Conflict Transformation In Movement-Building Groups
- Processes of Decolonization by Poka Laenui
- Pedagogy of Hope by Paulo Freire
- Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler