Over the past few years, we have been having conversations with various people in our lives about the nature of organising and the sustainability of movements in the current climate. Thinking about questions like: what is it that we need? How do we envision ways of being that do not rely on the colonial capitalist logics that are so normalised in our everyday. How can we be, now, in ourselves and with each other, the ways we would want to be in other imagined worlds?
Many people have said and written numerous useful things on these topics. Our initial conversations were deeply influenced Harsha Walia’s Undoing Border Imperialism and led to a “collaborative correspondence"* on issues like the form of organising spaces, the possibility of building different kinds of relationships, and the meaning of emotional justice and community care.
Below is a bit of this conversation - it is split into two blog posts. Part 1 touches on the relationship between being and doing, reacting and responding, and grief and loss.
This is not a “polished piece.” And, of course, it doesn’t reach some kind of end point but we hope that it can serve as a something to continue from...
Also publised at Sideways Times. Follow Lani at @BestLani.
We are human beings not human doings! Today I held a small baby who I love very much and was reminded of this as she cried and sat and looked into my eyes and smiled playing with her hands, interested in everything.
The system of colonial capital relations has stolen the being from us and made them into something else, into a fiction, a figment of our imagination, to strive towards something that doesn't make any sense at all. Not only has it stolen the being, it has distorted and stolen the human.
The way this has been done is terrifying, horrifying and brutal. So much so that it feels impossible to face it. The fact that this has been done in different ways, to different people, and that we have done it to each other....me and my people to you and your people.
As Walia writes, quoting Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox:
"... Relationship creates accountability and responsibility for sustained supportive action” (Irlbacher-Fox). Decolonization encourages us to think of this interconnectedness, not separation or isolation, as we strengthen alliances and enact solidarities to dismantle colonial structures and ideologies. (257)
Reclaiming, reshaping what it means to be human - redoing it! - being the way we want to be, and working towards the way we want the world to be, is the process of decolonisation.
This is also a process of healing the disconnection, the isolation and loss, the grief, which is something we talked about when we met. It seems to me that this is the work that is undervalued and that we don't really have a grasp of what to do about, well at least me, situated in this culture, now, at this point. The death, destruction and disconnection continues and within spaces of change we do not really know how to face each other, how to face the grief.
We talked about feeling nourished and rooted, about being able to be challenged and grow and change. That in order to build a politics intended towards what we want to see, there is a need to feel rooted and connected: so how does this show up in your life and the work you want to do in the world?
For me, feeling rooted and feeling nourished are connected to the hard work of healing and changing social relationships. I have a strong pull to want to be included in the terms of this system - I want to be seen as productive, I want to prove myself to be productive. I remember the pull of wanting to be included from when I was young and I'm still not quite sure what it means exactly to not act on that feeling and instead to build a life striving for liberation. Fighting for relationships is one way; trusting that they can grow and change, and remembering that all people are connected whether they are alive to this or not.
There's been a lot of talk of self care over the last few years; critiques of the way that self care has been taken up as an individualistic neo-liberal thing. But self is deeply connected to practices of community care, which requires a sense of interdependence and obligation to each other. As Walia writes:
Emotional justice is one expression of community care; it is the praxis of understanding and fully experiencing one another with empathy, and sustaining kinship beyond the bounds of capitalism and border imperialism. In the words of educator Yolo Akili, “Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impacts us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment.” Emotional justice fosters the spiritual, physical, and mental well-being needed to create community, to bring our best selves, and to reach for and experience liberation. (268)
I was speaking with a friend recently about how I've been feeling about the revelations about Juno Diaz.** We spoke about betrayal and grief... about how the two are interconnected. Betrayal not only as a lie but the loss of a promise, and the grief that follows. It made me think about how I have been feeling over the past few years about the loss of organising spaces. There's certainly been a lot of grief. We speak a lot about doing things differently but I’m not sure that we are willing to do the work required to do and be otherwise. I think this relates to your point about us as human beings not human doings. To be different is may be the pre-condition to doing different. But to be different we first have to be comfortable with being? And oftentimes we think of this as a waste of time. As navel gazing. A luxury. This is why I get so upset with the constant use of 'decolonial' in organising and other political spaces. It feels like a very cynical appropriation of it. (I often think that we tend to conflate decolonial with anti-colonial... and the two definitely are not the same. But that's another story.)
We spoke when we met about nourishing relationships. I've been thinking a lot about that since. I think to be nourished you have to be a bit selfish. (I suppose that’s somewhat like “having boundaries” but I don’t think it’s exactly that.) I mean you have to protect yourself from energies (people and spaces) that are not nourishing. Energies that may feel good temporarily but don't sustain you in the long run. I think finding nourishing relationships requires letting go of relationships that once seemed to hold promise but that promise is not, in fact, realisable. I think this is where the sense of betrayal and grief comes in, but it is a necessary part of our learning. I definitely don't mean people and relationships are discardable. I think we do owe a responsibility to each other to negotiate needs and expectations where we are at and where we want to be together. But sometimes, or oftentimes, the two aren’t quite in sync. And at that point, instead of diminishing ourselves and our needs, we need to be ok with letting go.
Building strong roots requires fertile soil. The energies that connect us - I see that as the soil. It is our responsibility, may be, to find the energies that are fertile to our needs. This is what I mean by being selfish. And this kind of selfishness, in my experience, comes with a lot of grief.
I think it is very easy to move past being to doing. Because being is actually harder and sometimes lonelier work. But I feel quite committed to it. Or at least in striking a balance between the two, such that the doing doesn't take over the being. I don't know specifically what that means in terms of organising. But maybe we can't imagine that because we have a specific picture of what 'organising' is. Maybe building different kinds of relationships is the first step to reimagining what organising can look like. So maybe what I feel committed to is building different kinds of relationships, where and when I can. Relationships that reflect how I want to be. I think we have a lot of tools amongst us to learn this. I mean various forms of indigenous thought and more contemporary writings by women of color - Walia calls these “memories of another way of living” (251). Maybe we need to create more space to commune with these memories as our work?
There's one more thing: in something I wrote a while ago, I used the phrase 'slow-cooking in crisis'. Reading Walia's book reminded me of that a bit. I want to be able to slow down, in all aspects of my life. During a meditation course I went on some years ago, the instructor spoke about the difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is more involuntary and responding is more deliberate. Sometimes the two may look the same, but they aren't. I think to be able to respond rather than to react, you have to actually be slow, be clear-headed, be grounded.
I don't think our organising (always) needs to be reactionary - even though sometimes this is necessary. It also needs to be responsive - especially in holding space for healing pain and grief. And hence it needs to come from a slowing down. This is despite, or may be even because of, the apparent speed at and urgency with which things seem to be happening around us. When you slow down you can see what's coming at you far better than if you are speeding and then are taken by surprise. And I don't think we need surprises, we need preparedness.
* phrase borrowed from here.
** difficult, read with care: