constellational thinker. critical scholar. transformative educator.

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Reflections on & Considerations for Resistance in This Mo(ve)ment

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If you are like me, you are just trying to keep up in this sociohistorical moment. If you are like me, you have experienced a week that has been simultaneously complex, exhausting, and infuriating.  If you are like me though, you are also taking this moment, this movement and remembering Paulo Freire’s call for me to engage in praxis – both action and reflection upon our world to transform it. As Freire reminds me in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (link), “[k]nowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” I have been speaking with friends, with kin, with members of the different communities I am a part of, and really have had some powerful, necessary reflections.  Here are some of them.


The Role of History in Resistance

I am concerned and troubled at the levels and waves of ahistoricism I am seeing in this mo(ve)ment. I am concerned and troubled at a bunch of folks proclaiming the highest levels of “woke”-ness and dubbing themselves Social Justice Warriors™ who reject learning a critical understanding of history and how it must inform our movements, not just inspire them. I am concerned and troubled because I see a root of this rejection of history being tied into what Anil Dash (link) was discussing – we do not see a before now, a before this moment. All we see is this moment and do not understand its ties to what has come before it.

And in some ways, I wonder what we believe our worthiness is in relation to our forbearers, our kin who were doing this work before we were even in this world. If we and our struggle are momentary, why are we doing this work? Do we deserve better because we were born later? Is it because we know better because we are “the most woke” that we do not need to take the time to learn history because we are better and have more access to the intersectional thinking that has always been the labor of trans and cis femmes of color? Do we believe our activism is the best it has ever been and that we are not willing to understand how people have been building and enacting movements against white supremacy, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy for decades and centuries? Trans femmes of color have existed for just as long and they have been resisting – we just need more critical understandings of history to get that. 

When you go to the doctor and you are sick, what is the first thing a doctor or nurse or caretaker do? They take a history. They seek to understand the legacy of your body, your past instances of illness and health, and all about how that informs what is happening now and how to move forward with treating your body. Our social movements, our activism, our resistance can be no different. We cannot have an informed movement without looking to our history and knowing what is possible. Rebecca Solnit (link), in particular, provides a perspective about history that I think is critical:

If you study history deeply, you realize that, to quote Patti Smith, ‘people have the power,’ that popular power, civil society, has been tremendously powerful and has changed the world again, and again, and again. That we’re not powerless. That things are very unpredictable, and that people have often taken on things that seemed hopeless — freeing the slaves, getting women the vote — and achieved those things. And I feel so much of what we’re burdened by is bad stories, both people who have amnesia who don’t remember that the present was constructed by certain forces to serve certain elements, and can be deconstructed in that things could be very different, that they have been very different, that things are always changing. And that we have agency in that change. (via OnBeing)

And then I wonder, is this tied to our unwillingness to be vulnerable about what we do not know, about what we have not been taught, about our insecurity of what history will tell us about ourselves and each other. In many ways, I/we have been cultivated to be ahistorical. Our stories of history, unless we were taught by critical historians, has always been linear, full of martyrs, and defined more by eras than struggles. Much of the ways in which we have been taught to be students of history is about the ways in which humans are made subhuman or superhuman by history, which results in our inability to see ourselves in history. It is as Angela Davis (link) says, we must realize that it is “essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.”

With better understandings of histories (and really multiple histories of multiple peoples), we would understand that the legal system was never meant to fix our country, our world; it was meant to make decisions about how bodies and institutions should be regulated. With better understandings of history, we understand that civil unrest has been more of a norm in this country rather than ever being abnormal.

When has our country ever known justice or peace?

Who has known justice and peace?

With better understandings of history, we more easily reject narratives to say we are “a nation of immigrants” and begin to realize we are more complicated than that, that the ways in which we got here (or were already here) were not equally easy or by choice. Saying we are all a nation of immigrants erases the settler colonialism on which our nation was founded. Saying we are a nation of immigrants denies the realities of native and indigenous peoples who were here before those settlers. Saying we are a nation of immigrants flattens the ways in which global migration has moved us here at different times and for different reasons as well as flattening our (in)access to this nation.

With better understandings of history, we understand that much of social change has been about opposing laws and decisions that were/are unjust. We understand that law breaking for so many of folks has been about what many of us love about history but hate about the present. We begin to stop hate lawbreaking in the present when we understand that lawbreaking was essential to those whose legacies we have neutered, like Martin Luther King, Jr.  We understand that laws are about power, not justice.

Indeed, when I/we are informed by history, when we become critical students of it, history helps to protect our hopefulness. As Rebecca Solnit said (link), “Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart, sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends towards justice is so long, if you see its curve, sometimes hope lies not in the looking forward, but backward, to study the line of that arc.”

The Role of Anti-Individualism in Resistance

In this mo(ve)ment, I am also more broadly seeing myself and others divesting from the rugged individualism that has driven so much of our economies, interactions, and answers to who and who is not worthy. And yet simultaneously, I feel and see and think that many folks want individualism to save us.

Let’s say tomorrow the process of social justice is done and we have achieved the intersectional goals of the Women’s March on Washington (link) in a way that is sustained and ongoing. What do our daily lives look like? What do our interactions and communities look like? For so long, when I have pictured the answers to these questions, they have been still deeply based in individualism and this idea that once we’ve achieved social justice (whatever that means) we all will live our lives free of systems that diminish our life chances and I will be free to achieve all those goals and cross off all those items on my to-do lists

While many folks have extended their analyses of our current President to his Cabinet appointments and his policies, many call for an impeachment of our President. Some want to impeach a lineage of people who come in the succession line. Others have called for new elections. If we extend this analysis, people want a replacement that causes them less anxiety and fear and worry. I get that. I do. I will not even argue that our current President’s executive orders have inspired much of that as does his continued rhetoric from the campaign. *And* I do have to say that our collective livelihoods, lives, and life chances would not be better off in someone else’s hands. 

The Office/Seat of the President has never meant to save anyone. Inspire? Yes. Lead? Yes. Change stuff? Not really. The President and the people around him are meant to uphold and maintain systems; that seat, that branch of government has never been intended to liberate others. Indeed, though I am a huge fan of Obama’s oratory style and candor, many of his speeches and acts still continued to center American exceptionalism. You can’t be the “best” country (not that I think we are nor should we be striving to be the best) without making sure people understand their place below you.

If our unrest is tied to a new individual being in place and “us” being out of harm’s way, we have failed before we started. Because when President Obama, President W. Bush, President Clinton were all in office, people’s life chances, lives, and livelihoods were still beholden to systems that were never made for those people in the first place.  Transgender women of color are still being killed at astronomical rates throughout all of those terms. Our rugged individualism around a President saving us is a falsehood, a smokescreen that makes “us” feel safer but never makes the national and global “we” feel safe.  And if our justice forwards the idea of a “us” and “them” narrative and ethic, then we have already lost. Because an “us” allows me to leave the mo(ve)ment the moment those in my definition of “us” are taken care of and lets me not worry about “them.”

Individualism is not going to save us.

Collective liberation and collective, leader-full movements will save us more so than any individual ever can and will.

When we begin to reject individualism, we understand that systems and structures have facilitated much of the pain and challenge many of us face. We begin to understand that systems and structures rooted in ideologies that do not center all human flourishing but only certain peoples’ flourishing are where our energies and greatest analysis must be focused. If we know attention must be given to the systems that (re)produce ideologies (and by extension people who believe in those ideologies) that reduce people’s livelihoods and life chances, we must reject simple analyses that seek to focus on individuals as roots of issues. Because if we believe that Trump, and by extension his Cabinet, are the enemies and not the ideologies they forward and seek to ingrain in our system further, then we will falsely believe that once they are gone, we only must repair what they have done to “us.” Once they are gone we then only need to focus on the damage done to “us” rather than focus on how “we” must all flourish moving forward.

That is a more daunting, difficult task. That is one that I/we are unaccustomed to. And we can do hard things. 

The Role of the Profit Motive in Resistance

This is also the mo(ve)ment where the people/planet motive must overcome the profit motive. The profit motive is steeped into our decision making and activism. Indeed, I see more people talking about outcomes of activism in terms of numbers who have shown up to protest, amounts of signatures, and that diversity and inclusion are important because of what people with diverse identities can *do* for all of us. Instead of being important for people to feel and be safe and secure with no qualifications, it becomes about what their bodies can produce and do and move our innovation forward.

Take for instance President Trump’s executive order halting refugees and visa applications from seven countries. In response, many activists and those who oppose the order are citing what immigrants and refugees do for this country, how they drive our innovation, make for us. #SteveJobs is the example I continue to hear. This reduces people to their bodies and their capabilities. So, if people cannot do something for us, they do not deserve access to our country and its resources? And generally our answer is yes, they are undeserving. That’s ideology rooted in the profit motive and not the people motive; that’s ideology rooted in compulsory able-bodiedness and not social justice (link).

Now, there are certain profit motives many have challenged for decades that myself and others are more broadly catching up to. When we look to the example of the beautiful, resilient water protectors seeking to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their work to block the pipeline from being built has not been about maximizing profits but more so to protect our planet and its resources in our current moment as well as preserving it for future generations.  Their work is a deep spiritual work centering the people/planet motive. Yes, the pipeline would reduce our dependency on foreign-based oil supplies and it has the potential to increase our dependency on foreign-based water supplies as we potentially destroy our own.

In the past week, I have seen people intentionally divest from companies of Uber because of their leaders’ support of the President’s executive orders. As if this is the only moment where Uber was being anti-people. Uber has repeatedly taken advantage of its employees, creating systems that do not allow their drivers to be tipped in ways that may increase their income. They have also taken advantage of the disorganization and messiness of taxi unions and systems (which have their own problems and issues) at times for profit gain (link). When taxis were protesting pick-ups in New York, Uber swooped in to make money rather than protest alongside of the other taxi services. Uber leadership has also planned to replace many of their drivers with self-driving cars, putting more people out of work (link). Again, this is the profit motive overtaking the people/planet motive.

We must also reject when we feel good about the profit motive, when we want to invest in “good capitalism” because they are doing good work. In the wake of Uber CEO’s comments, many have flocked to Lyft because of their donation to those doing immigration work (link). Starbucks has made a commitment to hiring more folks who are refugees and immigrants (link). These are things about “good capitalism” meant to make us feel good. And yet, these larger corporations and businesses still thrive and minimize the impact of contributing to small businesses and more local efforts to improve communities.

We also can look to people like Dorothy Vaughn for examples of centering the people/planet motive. I recently saw the film Hidden Figures (link). I cried and laughed and found deep joy in that movie. While the film really centers on the exceptional work of Katherine G. Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), I was most moved by Dorothy Vaughn (played by Octavia Butler) and her work taking care of the women around her. Indeed, Black women for centuries have done the work to take care of so many of us. When she realizes that the installation of the IBM 7090 would eventually lead to the end of work for her and her fellow computers, Dorothy sets out to learn Fortran and how to operate the IBM 7090, knowing it will be a key to her economic survival. Not only does Vaughn learn this for herself, to ensure her own survival, she teaches it to her colleagues. Vaughn does not to wish to survive on her own; she brings others with her. She centers the people/planet motive, having a deeper and broader care for the women she has unofficially led for over a year.

The people/planet motive is what motivated hundreds of lawyers, protesters, and translators to show up at airports this weekend. We need more of that in this mo(ve)ment.

Interlude - The Role of Self-Care in Resistance

In writing this, I realize that much of this work is both deep and broad and requires us to stretch our civilities to capacities many of us have not stretched them to before. I have had more people come to me in the past two weeks in tears, overwhelmed and exhausted because they are espousing and enacting love and resistance for so many people that they feel self-care is not an option. They are pushing themselves to the exhaustion in the name of others. And for many folks pushing themselves to this point, many of them feel that his sociopolitical/historical moment is different. And while this moment may be new to many of us, to others it has always been the norm (link), and none of this is new to history. 

But it is mother Audre Lorde who reminds us that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” It truly is. As I have spoken of elsewhere (link), our self-care as it has been Westernized and brought into systems of capitalism has been focused on self-indulgence and not about treating what we need physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. And often, our need to take care of selves in times of turmoil and despair for many folks is times to recede into our privilege…and often to stay in there. I see both espousals of self-care in this mo(ve)ment being about both receding into privilege and actually not taking care of ourselves.  But if we are to spend our privilege for one another to create more healthy communities for all of us to thrive in while we care for one another.

I have offered some resources to think about self-care in this moment below. Think about them and use them. Think about checking in with the friend who has consistently posted since the election has started or finished. Before you begin to engage in conversation across difference, ask how the person is doing. When’s the last time they have eaten, had a drink of water? How is their heart doing? So often we are ready to jump into and onto discussions and debates without checking in with one another. I find myself asking these questions of myself and others more and more as a starting point rather than some afterthought or only for those whom are closest to me. 

Think about care in this way: people checking in with one another is a point of communion in a sea of struggle. Checking in with another and practicing self-care is not something meant to be individualistic; it is part of cultivating community across difference where everyone matters and no one is left behind. 

The Role of Complexity in Resistance

Practicing an ethic of self-care that replenishes us, nourishes us helps us to heal from the trauma we are consistently exposed to in our 24-hour news cycles and social media feeds. We know the effects of trauma are vast and deep; our self-care must be trauma informed. In Trauma Stewardship (link), Laura van Dernoot Lipsky discussed what she calls trauma exposure response, or “when external trauma becomes internal reality.” She notes sixteen different trauma exposure responses, from “feeling helpless and hopeless” to “a sense that one can never do enough” to “hypervigilanze” to “addictions.” Of all of the potential response, the “inability to embrace complexity” is the scariest one to me. The problems of our world are interconnected and complex. To not have our abilities to think and analyze a problem complexly is concerning. As someone who believes strongly in our need to embrace interconnected and complex thinking (link), we can look to the anti-domestic violence movement as an example of the consequences of not thinking complexly. 

When feminists began to organize against domestic violence in the 60’s and 70’s in the United States, they were looking for ways for their claims to be taken more seriously by society at-large. They oriented their work to creating criminal legal responses more and more over the years eventually having the history, legacy, and reality of domestic violence and sexual assault being taken more seriously in all fifty states. Simultaneously, along with other forms of government instilled power into the criminal justice/punishment system, the U.S. prison population was (and still is) on the rise. By giving more power to a system and structure that unevenly and unjustly targets more men of color, undocumented folks, LGBTQ folks, and even more recently women of color (link), harm was/is being done in the name of justice and addressing a need.

Consider Jack Aponte’s analysis about the (non-)utility of hate crimes legislation despite major organizations like the Human Rights Campaign which continue to include them as part of their platform: 

I cannot see how hate crime legislation can do anything to protect anyone – queer and trans people, people of color, women, and other victims of hate crimes. Hate crime legislation only works after the fact, after someone has been victimized, hurt, or killed. Hate crime legislation cannot undo what has been done. Nor can it undo what has been done to our society and to the individuals within it: the inscription of hatred, of intolerance, of prejudice upon our psyches. Hate crimes don’t occur because there aren’t enough laws against them, and hate crimes won’t stop when those laws are in place. Hate crimes occur because, time and time again, our society demonstrates that certain people are worth less than others; that certain people are wrong, are perverse, are immoral in their very being; that certain people deserve discrimination, derision, and disrespect…Attacking a few of the symptoms of hatred while leaving others unhindered and the root causes untouched is never going to change much of anything.
- Jack Aponte, “Sanesha Stewart, Lawrence King, and Why Hate Crime Legislation Won’t Help” (link)

People in marginalized communities continue to look to restorative principles as ways to address harm in communities rather than turning to laws and codes to save them/us. They/we have looked to complex solutions to complex problems. A greater discussion of potential alternatives and examples of local action to address harm can be found elsewhere in this blog (link). What is most important in this moment is best summed up by Lipsky when she said “In the domestic violence field, as in almost every movement to make justice and stop human suffering, the urgency of the need can narrow our view and disorder our priorities. We can convince ourselves that the harm we are trying to end is so bad that the details of how we stop it don’t matter.”

The details and the complexity matters.

My/Our Informed Resistance

Lastly, and most importantly, what is the pursuit of our resistance? Is that resistance about resisting a specific person, our new President? Is it about resisting a system of fascism that seeks to trick our democracy into allowing it in the name of free speech? Is it about going back to the country we had when Barack Obama was our President, the country we had on January 19, 2017? If so, that’s not what my resistance is about.

I have heard consistently that in these next 4 – 8 years, “we” will need to be “more vigilant,” “we” will need to “show up” like never before, and that “we” should be “worried and scared.” Really? Who is this we? At this moment, our global we is a group of “I’s” coming together in the name of solidarity theater (link) that I continue to be worried is more about finding ourselves in the struggle rather than leaving no one behind in the struggle. Transgender women of color have always had to be vigilant, have continued to show up, and have always been scared for their own lives.

On January 19, 2017, we were deporting record amounts of people who were undocumented according to the U.S. government. On January 19, 2017, our drones continued to bomb innocent civilians, inspiring terror in the name of combatting terror. On January 19, 2017, transgender folks, particularly transgender women of color were still being killed at rates that should be considered an epidemic. If our resistance is about going back to January 19th, our resistance will not work.  On January 19, 2017, Uber was a company that was taking advantage of their employees, seeking to have self-driving cars that would leave more people out of work rather than giving people more work.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, we must continue to center the work that the Women’s March on Washington Principles and Vision centers. The work of Reina Gossett (link) and Dean Spade (link) and Raquel Willis (link) is about a resistance that seeks to move us to January 19, 2067. The historical work of Grace Lee Boggs (link), Angela Davis (link), Malala Yousafzai (link), Marsha P Johnson (link), and Gloria Anzaldú (link) is about moving us to January 19, 2067. The work of (and support to) investigative journalists and investigator citizens like Scott Dworkin (link), Adam Khan (link), Sarah Kendzior (link), Naveed Jamali (link), Malcolm Nance (link), and David Fahrenthold (link) is what will help propel us to January 19, 2067.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, we must not just seek to protect the Affordable Care Act we have now but push for systems that seek to center people’s health over which insurance they have (in)access to. Our pushes against particular bans on accepting refugees must not just be about who we take now but about how much we already subject refugees to and how many of the reasons people are refugees is about how the U.S. has helped to make their original homes unsafe for them and their families. Anything less is about going back to January 19, 2017.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, we must remember that justice bubbles up from everyday people. Trickle-down social change, just like trickle-down economics, is a fallacy. As Dean Spade reminds us (link), our movements have never returned for the most marginalized. Our January 19, 067 resistance must be about all of us.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, we must utilize a sociohistorical lens to learn from our past to inform our future and uplift future generations to go further than we thought possible. 

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, our “we” must be one that looks at our past, our current movement, and looks towards the future. Our “we” must what Lilla Watson called for, one in which our work with and love of one another is because our liberation is bound up in each other. Our “we” must be about centering the most marginalized in society, where our livelihoods, lives, and life chances should not center who our systems benefit the most but rather who they benefit the least. Our “we” must be one in which no one is disposable, where everyone is included in our definitions of justice, and where we protect and take care of one another.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2017, our work is about a moment.

If our resistance is about January 19, 2067, our work is about a movement. 

Alex Lange