Fears of potentiality lost

And, just as quickly, come the moments of despair.  In just over two weeks, the fire seems to be dimming, the strength of the well-oiled, deeply-rooted narrative of the American “democratic” machine rearing its head to constrain resistance into the known and accepted categories.  The moment of unity, of united struggle, seems diminished.  Each pre-existing group – the Socialists, the Colorado People’s Action, Showing Up for Racial Justice – emboldened by the sudden increase in attendance at their regular meetings – seeks to position themselves as central to the resistance, while resting on their pre-established agendas.  The Community for Unity, positioning itself as the new “movement” to confront this new era – initially seemingly organically grown from the moment of rupture, when 5000 people came to the streets – responds to the outpouring of support and desire to engage and develop solutions, holds a “planning meeting” which reveals not an engaged place for new thinking and action, but the perpetuation of one activists vision.  The “planning” turns into the implementation of hidden power, through the formation committees around pre-established categories, asked to plan immediate, short-term “projects” – while the vision of the initiator who has been, in her own words, looking for “followers” to her vision, is left at the center.  While words such as “revolution” are thrown around as I have never experienced within American activist groups, the answers that follow are far from revolutionary – prepare for the mid-term elections, sign petitions asking for legal investigations, call Congressional officials, teach people how to challenge micro-aggressions, hold community potlucks, protest in the streets daily, or riot and demonstrate anger (without purpose, numbers or widespread clear support).  And, while each of these may have an essential place, the lack of a multi-faceted and coordinated picture which links these together into some new vision of broader change, is critically missing.

I think often of my Egyptian friends in these days.  Of the frustration, despair and hopelessness I heard from them 5 years after Tahrir Square. Of the ways that individual interests overtook, each vying for their position of power and following rather than joining for a communal interest in a vision of a more just establishment.  The depths of hidden power as each movement sets its agenda separate from the people; the hold of invisible power that limits people’s vision or ability to think beyond the given strategies – and the ways in which both of these play into the visible power of a new administration being normalized, even when the rupture has revealed the deep-seeded chasms of injustice which exist within our boundaries and which we extend into nearly every corner of the globe.

Side by side with my hope, sits this despair and fear.  Fear that we will not take this opportunity.  That the oppressed communities, too accustomed to this oppression, already see this as normalized and not as a point of awakening for change.  That the communities of privilege, outraged in spirit, will resume their place of privilege where they are able to box the rupturous knowledge back to the “other” and continue to exist in the place where their privilege shields them from experiencing this reality.

It is the early days, I know this.  I have not given up on the continued potential as actions full of bigotry and oppression begin to emerge.  I continue to seek others to collaborate with in this vision of creating participatory, revolutionary, multi-faceted strategies that may allow us to materialize the potential of the Event in this moment of rupture; to look at the picture in its entirety rather than piecemeal, to be willing to seek a new vision and level of resistance towards something new and greater, in a way that an .  But sometimes, I wish I didn’t see so much, didn’t understand so much, could return to the optimistic (and maybe shallow) vision of my 20s.

I do not wish to monopolize this page, and hope that others will join the conversation (or I will just stop posting).  But in these times, I am finding strength in writing through the experience and struggle.  I am finding strength in knowing that this community exists across the globe.  And  I hope to continue to turn to and rely on this community who also see, recognize and feel the depth of both the complexity of the world as it is and the vision of something else.

Let the potentiality of the Event materialize: Finding direction after the U.S. Rupture of 11/9

11/9…..I have heard more than once that this is the U.S.’s next 9/11 – and one completely of our own making.  It has been two weeks full of tears, of anger, of knots in my stomach and rising nausea.  I was not shocked – I was sharing my fears of this potentiality with my global friends (hoping I was wrong) 6 months ago.  But the depth of pain of what this election represented and what it would unleash to justify bigotry, hatred and oppression, sent me into despair.  Until I realized, that a moment of Rupture and the potentiality which exists in the Event that I have been actively waiting to emerge, may have arrived.  And the power of potentiality that this brings, gave me the energy to get up and fight.

For some on the liberal left, it is this time of shock, this revelation that such a person could actually be elected.  To them, the crushing revelation was that these United States have never achieved that UNITED part; that racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia – you name it – was on its way out.  It may still exist, sure, as liberals we know that, but surely it was the minority opinion.  And then, by common perception, these ills won the election.  A shock.

Now, sure, there is the issue of the popular vote; in that sense the neoliberal left did win.  Similarly, there is bound to be truth existing within the reports of voter suppression (such as the report that 300,000 mostly people of color were turned away in Wisconsin due to voter ID laws; certainly there are others).  There is validity in the fact that in actuality Trump only received votes from about 25% of the electorate (only 64% of the country voted after all.)  This is by no means a majority of this country’s peoples, nor is there not reason to suspect that our ‘representative’ democracy once again did not live up to its espoused ideals.  But still, even with these givens (and even more broadly, potentially conspiratorially ones stated in many circles), this community is left shocked, infuriated and stumbling to figure out how to place their shaken realities.

RUPTURE.  The screen is ripped.  The reality experienced by people of color, queers, immigrants so long whitewashed in the ‘liberal’ agenda can be washed over no more. Cracks are emerging in the infallibility of neoliberal capitalist model. Words such as oppression, racism, xenophobia and bigotry are used in the mainstream media (even though the tempering of the rising sentiment of anger has already begun); words such as  ‘revolution’ emerge in every gathering of protest.   The ‘shock’ is spilling over into the streets, into exploding attendance at community organizing meetings, non-violent trainings, the socialists meetings – all pre-existing groups used to minor attendance and marginalized recognition.  Many aren’t quite sure what it is they are standing for, the agenda is not set. But people are rising in a Truth; the  inexistent has been exposed, the invisible made visible.  The facade is ripped.  The rupture of 11/9.

On 10 November, growing from the single rant of a frustrated and hurting activist, somewhere between 3000-5000 people took to the streets of Denver, ultimately closing down and sitting in the middle of one of the central intersections of cross-city thoroughfares.  The chants represented the diversity and unity in uprising:  “Black Lives Matter!” “Her body, her choice!”  “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here!” “Love trumps hate!”  The people of all backgrounds, causes and movements joining in a united uprising of the Truth that supersedes the knowable truth; the Truth that is the recognition of the ruptured narrative.  The Truth which is showing signs of rupture across the globe, the words and symbols stretching boundaries – “No-one is Illegal!”  The colorful fist I copied from a sign at Yarlswood, represented in the streets of Denver.  It is the uprising that relies on the Truth that is not clearly articulated, and yet clearly understood.  The uprising of Truth in rupture that creates the potentiality of the Event.

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Within the chants, within the uprising of Truth, my tears find ground in the potentiality of this Event.  I feel the difference from my years of seeking the power of the people strong enough to challenge the structures of oppression which have long been laid bear to me.  But this moment of rupture, even as, if, it culminates in the Event, is by no means a given. On the one hand, I feel the optimism and fire of the potential of the fight arriving, of the chance that this exploding rupture  may FINALLY lead to an Event which does not fade, but feeds into the seeds planted in Occupy, the Arab Spring, #blacklivesmatter.  On the other, I see the cracks where the Event becomes nothing more than a blip of anger in history.  The place where each cause seizes on the opportunity for its own growth rather than the collective fight, fizzling into fractioned elements that dissolve the potency of the moment of rupture.

I remain ultimately hopeful.  This moment of rupture,  by its very nature, emerges into an unorganized ground of the individual experiences of the multitudes.  The Truth of the ‘American psyche’ and the ‘American dream’ has been exposed not only to our country, but to the world.  The Now is a moment of historical significance; the Now can not tell where the future will lead.  But how we handle the Now can either be an opportunity of drastic shifting in MLK’s arc of justice; or it can amplify the strength of the Corporate, neoliberal structure if we fizzle to the capitalistic maintenance of the status quo in slight democratic reforms.

The Now; the potentiality.  Its overwhelming, its a moment to watch; but it is also a moment to act.  Because the result of the Event ultimately come down to each individual within it, doesn’t it?  Each of our actions at this moment will contribute to how history remembers this Event, which pathway its potentiality will take.  Recognizing the power of the moment within the Now must be first and foremost.  As someone situated in the middle of it, I feel the responsibility – and share the responsibility – with every person who sits in this moment.  WE will decide how this ends, where this potentiality materializes – or doesn’t.  It will take more than just one of us; it will take the cumulative effect of each and every one of us existing and with power within this moment.  I, for my part, will continue to look for my place at the center of taking action to contribute to the hope I have in the depth of my heart, stomach and soul, that we can make something of this painful moment of rupture that will bend the arc in a true vision towards justice.

 

The reasons behind Trump’s rise: Looking for Hope

On March 1st, Super Tuesday, Donald Trump stopped being a joke. His ludicrous and inflammatory statements were once something one could laugh at with disbelief. On Super Tuesday my laughter stopped, replaced by an overwhelming sense of anger and fear at what his rise represents. Though an infuriating persona in his right, the intensity of my emotions towards Trump’s rise come primarily from the fact that he could resonate with so many.

I am certainly not the only one asking this question – how could so many support him? What does this say about our current social and political context? There is no shortage of viewpoints attempting to answer these precise questions. It was in one of these answer that I found me a strange sense of hope. The suggested answer that most resonated with me, which I stumbled on while perusing Facebook, was Amanda Taub’s, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism” (Taub, 2016). Taub points to the works of political scientists Matthew MacWilliams and Marc Hetherington, who separately concluded that a growing number people “seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.” (Taub, 2016). Taub’s conclusion is grim – that Trump could be the first of many of his kind of American leaders. I prefer to focus my attentions on the reasons why so many are feeling the threat of a status quo challenged. Could it be that this rise could instead be evidence that there have in fact been a series of historical Events in the contemporary time, not just immediate or latent riots, but the kind that constitute an Event and the opening of a Rupture (Badiou, 2012).   And it is here that I find hope – for the Event itself represents possibility.

The US has seen increasingly large protests and actions in recent years. From the Occupy Movement, to Black Lives Matter (and all of the localized actions arising from the police killing of young black men), both of which are intended to challenge some aspect of the status quo. Pointedly, these have occurred during the time when the country is governed by the first black president, which by image alone (irrespective of Obama’s policy implications, which have been much less challenging than some would have hoped) shakes the stable ground which maintained exclusively white male power at the top. As Badiou points out, the Event is the moment when a new thought can emerge (Badiou, 2013); potentially seen in Occupy’s prefigurative approach to playing out how power and societal organization can exist, or the variety of protests (potentially, weakly, joined under Black Lives Matter) which challenge how the unquestioned power of the police and of white against black can be reconsidered and confronted. The Event is not an actuality, but instead a possibility that this new thought can be brought to life. Living in what seems an all too stagnant society that allows the status quo to perpetuate itself, I have often wondered the historicity in the way that Badiou defines it, of these moments. Have these been having an impact? Are the power structures too big to fail, too big to be challenged? Would these be Events, based on Badiou’s definition, which truly bring forth new ideas, and would they be continued with any champions maintaining fidelity to their dreams and vision?

Seeing Taub’s interpretation provided by this particular political science lens through Badiou, I find hope for a new thought, a new possibility for the future. If this theory is right, it seems to me evidence that Trump’s rise may directly correlate to the fact that these Events are creating a meaningful challenge to the status quo. I optimistically hope that these Events have the potential of historicity, demonstrated precisely by the fear which pushes Trump’s supporters. Trump is certainly evidence of Badiou’s point that the current era is, as Marx predicted, “the full unfolding of the irrational and, in truth, monstrous potentiality of capitalism.” (Badiou, 2012:12). To an almost cartoonish extent, Trump represents an unapologetic exhibition of neo-liberal policies, an outrageous and growing gap of wealth and an ever-present clinging to static version of “freedom” and “individuality” which mask the realities of the price paid and hypocrisy present in fiercely defending this ideology. But in his gross representation of these ideals, we begin to see through the cracks, exposing and making visible the bigotry, racism and arrogance perpetuated by this ideology, the multitudes of people who pay the price. Maybe this has helped fuel the counter-argument being represented in Sanders’ parallel rise (though separate analysis would be needed to further examine this).   Maybe, just maybe, out of the terrifying shadows of what Trump represents, we can see a light. Maybe, just maybe, what he represents is a rising challenge to the system that can allow the actuality of the Event realized through the fidelity of its actors in our time. Maybe here, at least, I can find the optimism and hope to continue the struggle towards a different reality.

Bibliography

 

Badiou, A., 2012.  “The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprising.”  London: Verso.

Badiou, A, 2013. “Alan Badiou: Event and Truth.” Opening talk at the conference “Event in Artistic and Political Practices.” Accessed online April 3, 2016 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE97dwA8wrU

Taub, A. 2016. “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.”  Accessed online April 3, 2016 at http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism.

Seeking a cyborg movement

I oscillated in my 20s between shaving my legs, and not. As a young feminist, trying to form my identity, and also a young woman finding my own sense of sexuality, it seemed a conundrum. Shaving my legs was interpreted as caving to the structure of patriarchal domination; but I liked shaved legs. Was I […]

Wrestling with the prefigurative

I am not a blogger (in fact, this is my first one), and have no creative spin (at the current moment….) but the notion of preconfigurative politics swirls in my head and I hope to continue the dialogue as I wrestle with this notion. Our readings and discussions this week make me consider giving a new sense of validity to an old notion I had once believed in strongly, but grew to be all but entirely disenchanted by. Can the inextricable link between means and end really be the struggle – is this truly a simultaneous challenge of power while constructing a new reality (van de Sande, 2013; Maeckelbergh, 2011)? Could the hippies I idolized as a young person have gotten something right?

In my late teens and early 20s, I was enamored with the social justice movements of 1960s America – the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement – these were symbols of the people taking power, creating a more just world. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I yearned for an opportunity to have an impact. The hippie movement, Grateful Dead lots and Rainbow family became my ideals – though my physical distance in Alaska left little room for participation, my naïve viewpoint saw these as the embodiment of living the values associated with the social change movements.   I found myself drawn to searching for this sense of community where the means and the ends overlapped. Create and live the change we want to see and it could happen – the values spreading eventually far enough to turn over the inequities of the world (especially if you threw a few protests in there). I yearned for a VW van, sat around with friends and talked about the evils of corporations and how to live in more sustainable communities. My intentions, even then, were never satisfied by the simple act of my personal livelihood there, but saw it as integrally connected to a wider picture of social change. I believed in the possibility created by a simplistic version of a prefigurative state.

Anthropological studies and my experiences at a private, liberal arts college in the mid-West of the US shook this belief. I began to interact more with these communities – going to the Phish lots, engaging with intentional communities on campus, seeing pockets of humanity too closely clustered in their own belief systems – while simultaneously learning to understand the depth and power of social construct (ie invisible power, hidden power). The complexity of injustice seemed far too complex for such simplistic answers How could these gatherings of (almost) entirely white, middle class, educated and liberal anti-structuralists really have an impact. Did they “get” the world and true struggle? I came to discredit such notions, generally rightly so, I believe (a point for another discussion), but at the same time maybe I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Reading and discussing van de Sande (2013) and Maeckelbergh (2011), I am swayed by the nature of creating a new sort of horizontal democracy, experimenting with new ways of interacting with power structures as a potentially critical step along the process of change. Can the inextricable link between means and end really be the struggle – is this truly a simultaneous challenge of power while constructing a new reality? Could the hippies I idolized as a young person have gotten something right? How else can we possible break out of the historical cycle of activism, revolution, which recreates the power structures in the same image of what it has replaced (albeit with improvements made to livelihood, voice and participation in some instances along the way)? Vision and imagination are critical for change; we can not create something we can not see. The old methods have been tried for centuries, patterns are familiar.  Spaces of prefigurative politics allow for this vision to be developed, room to exists for experimentation of totally new ways of working with power, to see if there might in fact be a better way.

At the same time, there is something I find very problematic in purely prefigurative politics, which we certainly have discussed at length. The tendency for it to become an insular bubble is strong. It is easy to continue to preach to the choir; despite the striving and recognition of diversity, there is something homogeneous in what draws people to participate in most of these spaces (arguably, with a purely subjective position, more so in movements such as Occupy than in a revolutionary space such as Tahrir Square). Such tendencies can ignore and wash over the most difficult negotiations of horizontality/power sharing/equity that exists when vastly diver communities/perspectives/values meld. And I firmly believe that it is in the greatest difference of perspectives that truly horizontal systems must meet.

But, what if a prefigurative space could represent some stage of limonality? There seems to me to be some significant areas of overlap within these two concepts, which combined heightens my own sense of optimism on the possibility to rectify the quandary I am finding in my consideration of prefigurative spaces. Limonality: the threshold, the space where rules and social norms are suspended, where a sense of identity and self is challenged and reconstructed (Alves, 1993). Prefigurative: a space of experimentation, redesigning conformity and socially accepted norms, a space of liberation, where a sense of identity is constructed. If it can be construed as a space of limonality, then one would then be able to more directly consider what happens on the other side of the threshold, the post-liminal space. What happens when the creations of prefigurative experimentation and living emerge to confront the world more directly with new knowledge, confidence and a restructured identity? Could this be the stage of transformative change (Reeler, 2007) , the crisis point, the place where values are challenged; all forms of power – visible, hidden and invisible(Gaventa, 2006), power over, power with and power within (VeneKlesan and MIconfronted; the “natural” and assumed societal constructions and norms questioned? And what if on the other side of that, could be emergent change (Reeler, 2007), where learnings from the space of limonality grow organically to form new norms?

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These questions start to give me considerations that allow me to return to the space of my youth. Prefigurative space, the means to see “successful” impact beyond set outcomes, where instead value is found in spaces which seek to live the change deeply, I believe have a place. But simultaneously, outcomes do matter – the lives lost, the people living crushed by capitalist systems, imprisoned, shot, tortured – all continuing while these spaces experiment. Simultaneously, the acknowledgement that power’s inevitable impact on human interaction exists and different ways of interacting with it must be found through new frameworks also seems indespensible to long-term, rooted change. So, could prefiguration be a state of limonality in the change process, the transformative rupture which allows more widespread change to emerge?

Those are my rambling thoughts at the moment, which I hope at least might get some conversations started here, as we begin to wrestle with these “unruly” concepts. Can’t wait for what is next to throw in the mix!

 

BIbliography

Alves, J. (1993). “Transgressions and Transformations: Initiation Rites among Urban Portuguese Boys.” American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Dec., 1993), pp. 894-928.

Gaventa, J. (2006). ‘Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis, Power: Exploring Power for Change’, IDS Bulletin, Volume 37 No. 6, pp 23-33.

Maeckelbergh, M. (2011) “Doing is Believing: Prefiguration as Strategic Practice in the Alterglobalization Movement.” Social Movement Studies, 10:01, 1-20

Reeler, D. (2007). A Threefold Theory of Social Change. Community Development Resource Association [Online]. Available at: http://www.cdra.org.za/threefold-theory-of-social-change.html. [Accessed 5 January, 2016].

Rowlands, J. (1997) ‘Power and empowerment’, in Questioning Empowerment: Working with Women in Honduras, Chapter 2. Oxford: Oxfam, pp. 9-27.

Van de Sande, M. (2013). “The Prefigurative Politics of Tahrir Square – An Alternative Perspective on the 2011 Revolutions.” Res Pulbica, 19: 223-239. Available online at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11158-013-9215-9