We Need You To Show Up To The Riot, Well Rested
Poet, Activist, Educator, Independent Scholar.
“When you really get at the complicated core or the mediated essence of Ella Baker it really has so much to do with this kind of democratic gratitude of being in a tradition of struggle… You don’t need messianic leadership; you don’t need a revolutionary party; you don’t need professionals and experts coming in from the academy and telling you x,y,and z. You are in conversation with them, but they don’t need to have an elevated status.”
-(p. 96-97 Black Prophetic Fire Dr. Cornel West w/Christina Buschendorf)
In terms of building and cultivating resistance work we can learn a lot from our dreams.
I am not only speaking to the content of our dreams, I am referring to the ways in which they interrupt our lives. They do not wait until we are ready to receive them, nor do they wait for permission from our bodies or our consciousness. They come in full force, and when we wake, we have to figure out, if we have the patience, what to do with the dream work that was just delivered to us.
I believe the same spontaneity and interruptive nature that power dreams can be applied to social justice work and activism.
Dreams are the work we do to build resistance and the dreamer is society, the collective people galvanized to take part in changing their condition. I believe dreams and imagination are knowledge projects that require our interrogation to make sense of the world. Dreams enter our bodies and stir up the subject in spite of our age, ability, class position, nationality, sexual orientation or health status. They perform their duties in delivering us information regardless of our opinions of them. Dreams do not ask for their power; they simply are powerful. We cannot forget in social justice work to be dream–like.
As Angela Davis articulates brilliantly, “Individual memories are not nearly as long as the memories of institutions, and especially repressive institutions.” (Angela Y. Davis at the University of Chicago – May 2013)
This is to say that dreams are impermanent, and rarely do we remember them. It takes mental labor to remember a dream; you have to force yourself, it takes effort. The institutions of which Angela speaks are the American house or American institutions we sleep or participate in. People may come in and throughout the house or the institution. However, the institution has a relationship with the world. The house begins to develop a memory much longer than anyone who dreams or participates in it. Dream–like tendencies are valuable to social justice work because dreams simply “do their work” and so must the people. Often times, we do not tell ourselves to simply do our work, we say wait a minute! Who’s your grant writer? When/Where do you plan to get a permit for this protest? Where are you getting your funding? Where did you graduate? How long have you been an organizer? What non-profit do you represent? It is a regularity of hierarchy to ask for credentials, especially in social justice human service work. Credentials are by–products of authority. This however isn’t to say one should be without standards, it is to say any credentials should be second to standards based on how we as struggling people relate to one another.
As I see it, Permission Politics, as it relates to authority, is the halting of direct action, organizing, and resistance work due to the absence of confidence or credentialed authority.
Radical imagination is crucial in social justice work. We need to be able to radically imagine power and authority to not be synonymous. What happens when the organizer(s) becomes another form of authority? Then do we lean away from community being self sufficient, self determined because the community relies on the organizer so much so they are incapable of organizing themselves?
The passage I pulled from speaks volumes to the ways in which Ella Baker as an organizer was exemplary in the way she galvanized community power away from authority. Holding the same community accountable to their own brilliance and possibility as her organization S.N.C.C was collapsing, she said to the young faces staring back at her who wanted authoritative direction, “It’s up to you. It’s all up to you. You all got to work it out.” (West, p. 98) In this we see a potent example of unauthoritative grassroots leadership that truly puts people up to the task of laboring over their dreams. Laboring over the task of deciding who exactly they want to be.
I also feel the need for demystifying conflict as activists; this is also necessary in resistance building. Being that we are living under multiple supremacies, the default of our country is normalized violence and any eradication of that violence, which is the aim of social justice work, has an immediate need for confrontation. This need for demystifying conflict goes beyond what we imagine conflict arising with a police officer may be. It is also necessary in the way we relate to each other as activists and community members. Passive aggressiveness is cruel, immature and substantially counterproductive to activism. We live in a country drenched in it, especially within the work. Frankly we don’t have time. We must get into the practice of leading with love within our communities to address grievances. If this is relational work, let the quality of those relationships be presented by the way we massage and remedy tension. Accountability cannot become a buzzword.
We also need to not let tendencies of capitalism interweave within the work, by which I mean disposability politics. Capitalism turns everything and everyone into an object/thing that has use until it doesn’t. Disagreement is real and differences on how to “properly do the work” tend to emerge when we are passionate; however, we have to urge against purity and dogma, the idea that this particular way of activism is the only way. Often the way we see transforming the world doesn’t immediately come from the consensus of our intellect. We learn, we stumble, we grow. We must give ourselves radical permission to change our minds and be wrong in order to be right, yet if our community disposes of us before we are able to critically develop in our own timeline, we will never be able to live up to the full potential of our contributions. We are athletes in activism—the intellect is a muscle, which we have to exercise and which is also imperfect. This is not to say that we must cater to our offenders’/oppressors’ comfortability or tone police ourselves; I also do not want this to come off as some sort of “keep predators present” rhetoric. The greater goal is always collective safety. I am suggesting a protocol of accountability, cultivating a culture of eye contact and deliberate communication outside of the virtuality of social media.
Within the confines of virtuality, we can stifle our ability to demystify conflict. The landscape of facebook/twitter/instagram allows for inflammatory language that amplifies conflict. Ultimately, social media/virtuality doesn’t hold for a listening or healing space, more so a space to reinforce our own already-established beliefs. Social media, though it can connect us, can also pull us very apart from each other and actually prevent us from holding ourselves truly accountable.
In other world(s) absent of capitalism, we will no longer have “professionals” or “organizers” based out of “authority” and “leadership” whose merit is determined by how much they’re compensated, what degree they managed to obtain or grant they were able to receive; instead, we will have guides who simply help us achieve our full humanistic development. Hierarchy does as capitalism does, which is to disempower and desert human beings. These systems of power and individualism frame success as escapism from hardship rather than collective survival.
“We need you to show up to the riot well rested” – Keno Evol, /picking and digging/
“My work has always been bigger than my job” – Patricia Hill Collins, author Another Kind of Public Education
Permission Politics, I find, also lives within advocating for oneself. Within this work we are constantly digging, getting deeper within ourselves. Self examination, while living under supremacy trying to shift/transform/transport our societies to other worlds, is an exhausting assignment. We must participate in self care and give ourselves permission to do so. In the age of the 24-hour news cycles with journalism that goes for the extravaganza of conflicts, especially with social media, it is easy to get wrapped in the chasm of catastrophe. We must unwind and unwrap. This work creates both exhausting memories and exhausted muscles, and it’s no joke. Especially for those of us who carry black bodies and identify as activists and organizers.
The other night I was having coffee with a friend at a cafe where the chai has gotten me through a lot of emails, and we began to expound on the state of disparities for black residents in Minnesota. While talking, we started to talk about the local history of the Ku Klux Klan, and the lack of education on local white supremacist traditions as well as the whereabouts of the 4 million robes that were stitched in this country for the Klan. It was a very fueling conversation. I left it to attend to another meeting. Once the night concluded, I left activated by the previous conversation. I had a curiosity, wondering why aren’t we invested in conversations that frame the actual positioning of white supremacy? For example, knowing that being accepted into the Klan was to be accepted into what was known as a “prestige organization” at the time. Though I left ignited, triggers and sensors I may not have even been aware of within my body transported themselves into a nightmare I had later that night of the Klan breaking into my apartment. It wasn’t the first time this transference of white supremacy occurred; police brutality, which comes out of the same traditions that birthed the Klan, has also had a transition into my dream spaces. I couldn’t have and don’t have the privilege of having a conversation with a friend on local history without being affected six hours later unbeknownst to me in a dream.
We who are regularly engaged with social ills, who also carry the bodies of those targeted, bring into our dream spaces the luggage created by the consistent engagement with terror and injustice that might not be affecting our allies in the same way.
We do need you to show up to the riot well rested. We need you to show up prepared, beautiful and activated. Preparation is the objective of activism and otherworldly visioning. We have to prepare for when the next officer will take one of our kin as a result of fear and indoctrinated power tripping. We have to prepare for the daily nuanced microaggressions. We need to prepare for the revolution. This preparation is the work of organizing.
Permission Politics as it relates to self care recognizes self preservation not as an allowance to “Bow out gracefully” or “check out” (since in this work, there is none), but rather as an immediate “check in” to a different protest scene, our actual bodies. Me, for example; not wanting to go to the protest, the rally, the meeting, I am not disengaging from organizing, but rather granting myself permission to re-engage with my primary organization and collective, myself. This is in fact anti-capitalist because it steers away from addressing my body as a thing to be used until it can’t. Instead I am allowing my work, which for us is our bodies, to travel outside of the capitalist “workplace”, which again for us is our entire lives. Permission Politics as it relates to self care reconnects the “workplace” to the being who is doing the work. If our bodies are our workplaces, let’s tend to them. Let’s insure they are getting the laughter, joy and pleasure that are necessary ingredients to cultivate happiness in any life, especially a life that is targeted.
Permission Politics recognizes “the work day” as something that is continuous and never ending. Being so, the healing work has to never be under prioritized.
Permission Politics says allow yourself to travel. Too much in activism, we are asked to travel vertically, through lists, bullet points, deadlines, agendas and applications. We must also allow ourselves to travel horizontally, i.e cafes, beaches, vacations, spontaneous walks, spontaneous reading and also interdimensionally within our dreams. We need to get proper rest. Giving ourselves permission to participate in moments of stillness and reciprocity is something that we as activists often don’t indulge in because such a thing would require a check out from “the work”, but again aren’t our hearts, our bodies and our lives our sacred workplaces?
Often we are encouraged to see freedom as a location, i.e the mountaintop, the promised land. I would like us to conceive freedom as a forever transforming and shifting process that is happening in society rather than something that has happened or will happen. I would like us to conceive freedom as something that is and isn’t always happening. I would like us to conceive freedom as a social relationship we have with one another. The notion of freedom as the relational reoccurrences we have within our community. If we are afraid of a police officer or to walk home at night or to walk during the day, aren’t those experiences evidence enough of being unfree? Permission Politics, whether we are talking in relation to authority or self advocacy, is the process of grappling with the long-haul struggle to become more free. The struggle continues because our bodies must continue; with them, let’s carry as much joy as we can memorize. And there is so much joy to memorize.
Keno Evol is a six-year educator having taught at nineteen institutions across the state of Minnesota. He is the board chair of the Youth Advisory Board for TruArtSpeaks. Evol has received numerous grants and competed nationally as a spoken word artist. He is a blogger for Revolution News, an international group of independent journalists, photographers, artists, translators and activists reporting on international news with a focus on human rights. Evol has been published in Poetry Behind The Walls and on platforms such as Gazillion Voices Magazine and Black Girl In Om.