I began my “official” activist/social justice engagement in 2002 in Washington DC (besides the “activist work” my family members were doing just trying to exist in a system of poverty, inflated housing costs, and racism in DC). It was interesting and quite confusing to enter into a world of “career activists” and anarchist/punks who were excited about having a lot of meetings, “actions”, critical masses, and protests but still being afraid to walk down certain streets in DC, visit certain neighborhoods/communities, and engage in real-life change that needed to happen on the spot. There was no shortage of anger, rage, fear and oh yeah….talk. After connecting with these communities on some level because I had intuitively figured out that I was not interested nor did I believe in social change/justice within the context of our federal and “state” government (yeah, DC a state? Uh..no) , I was initially excited about joining the culture of anti-government, resistance, and grassroots organizing. After reading Angela Davis’ autobiography and Emma Goldman’s “This is my Life”, I was all geared up to be apart of the “black bloc” , attend punk shows, be apart of and attend teach-ins, organize anti PIC/anti-globalization events, ride my bike in protest, and march in as many protests as possible. After realizing that a number of the groups that I was connected to had not been doing important work around white privilege, sexism, and homophobia…me being a queer identified black woman, it was time for me to move on from these groups.
Quickly I became engaged with other, more diverse and intentional groups. Still, as a couple of years or so went on, it didn’t take long for me to realize that in my heart, there was still a disconnect from something very important. I started to ask questions of my activist friends and they were having difficulty answering them to my satisfaction. “What does the revolution look like?”, “when will we actually work with people who we keep talking about and not talk amongst ourselves?”, “what is the alternative to our current system of government?”, “my family is going to be evicted in an illegal and unjust way, can we maybe hold a protest in front of their house to help stop it?”. I started questioning my intentions…what is it that we are DOING? I know that these folks want to see positive change in our communities and in the world, but what I kept running into was a lot of anger and very little actual positive community change. What are all of these “actions”, shows, conferences, meetings, and protests all about REALLY? I started questioning myself and my connection to the groups that I was giving so much time, energy, and attention to. I felt like something critical was missing (granted there were plenty of grassroots organizing that was affecting real change in DC at that time. I just didn’t know about them until after I left or wasn’t connected to them. However, I also would ask the same questions of these groups that I ask later ). There was a lot of talk about what systems weren’t working, why they weren’t working, what people don’t have and that all the systems of oppression were the reasons for it. I agreed with most of what was being said in these contexts and still do to a large extent. These systems exist. They are instrumental in creating tremendous suffering and devastating cycles of oppression for many humans both in the US and in the world. After 10 years since my initial engagement experience, these systems still exist in similar and different forms. As I have entered back into activist communities as an older person and get to hear voices from around the country (after 10 years of teaching…a different kind of engaged activism), it is inspiring and exciting to see amazing community work being done that have real life implications on the lives of marginalized folks in our communities. However, the conversations are still rooted in tremendous anger. The amount of anger/range output (and internalized) does not usually equal the amount of change happening. It is not equalized, instead a very big imbalance occurs. Those decade old experiences and exchanges along with new ones, have produced many very huge, overwhelming, and provocative questions for me ….
- Are rage and anger really that useful for sustaining deep social change?
- What does anger do to the activist’s body and mind as it is often used as a catalyst for social change?
- How does it affect our relationship with other activists/organizers?
- How does it affect our relationships with our families and friends?
- How does it affect our relationships with our lovers, partners, spouses?
- How does it affect our relationship with strangers?
- How does it affect our relationship with people who we see as “the enemy” or those who we see as being in opposition to us (politically/socially)?
- Can deep social change happen or be sustained by generating compassion for more then just folks we see as the “oppressed”? (i.e. can we take the idea of “social change” further? Can this process of change go deeper then solely changing laws, policies, electing the “right” people, creating new economies, creating new social programs, fighting the PIC, creating alternative education models, etc.?)
I am by no means saying that the various methods and work mentioned above are not important and don’t affect positive change. I believe and work toward developing many of the above-mentioned models. However, I am interested in more. Whether you are new to community work or have been in it for some time, I would like to engage in a dialogue and get a sense of what others think about the questions that are raised above?