I’ve been on book tour for months, and it’s not done yet. Going to Cuba this week, then Washington DC, Ohio, Boston, NOLA, and more. I call it the “DEMAND the IMPOSSIBLE Rainbow Queer Insurgent Road Trip Toward a Future Worth Having.” Onward!!!
It’s been heartening these last months to gather together with people in city after city across the country, folks who came out in large numbers—not so much for the book, but driven by the felt-need to assemble in an available public space, to face one another without masks, and to consider the fundamental questions once again—and with accelerating urgency: who are we? Where are we going? What time is it on the clock of the world? What is to be done? There’s a common and compelling feeling from north to south, from east and west that we must somehow muster and unite the disparate forces for peace and justice and liberation into an unstoppable mass force—a love army. Uprising!
There’s a wonderful bumper sticker I see now and then, sometimes in the form of a banner or a poster: “If you’re not pissed off,” it reads, “you’re not paying attention.”
It’s true. Opening our eyes, paying attention, staying alert—when we see the horrors and the injustices, it ignites indignation; when we notice the unnecessary suffering in all directions, it stirs a sense of outrage and urgency. That emotion is essential—but it’s also insufficient. Anger alone cannot create the society we need and deserve; fury by itself will not take us to the place we need to be.
So there needs to be another bumper sticker, right next to that first one: “If you’re only pissed off—if you’re not guided by deep feelings of love and empathy—you’ll be lost in the wilderness.”
Anger and love. Rage and generosity. Fury and tenderness.
Humanity—and the possibility of a humane future—asks us to get it right.
It’s our duty to fight; it’s our responsibility to win.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ~~~Charles Dickens
The US empire is in steady and irreversible decline, but it’s unlikely to exit the world stage, or to relinquish its self-designated role as the “world’s only superpower” easily or painlessly—this is where we begin to name this political moment, honestly and unsparingly, a moment unique in history. The end of every previous empire—Ottoman, British, French, Portuguese, Belgian, German—was accompanied by war and mass slaughter at escalating scales. The US is in decline, true, but it’s also the greatest military power ever assembled on earth with vast arsenals of weapons of mass destruction capable of wreckage—even extermination—never before seen. This is a precarious, dangerous, and terrifying time.
The decline of empire coexists with renewed patriotic nationalism and deliberately constructed fear; the criminalization of whole communities and the identification of ill-defined enemies—“illegal” immigrants, border violators, Muslims, Arabs, foreigners, queers, Black people, independent women, terrorists—as a unifying cause; the ramping up and cohering of white supremacist forces; the mobilization of secretly financed “popular” movements in the streets based on bigotry, intolerance, and the threat of violence against vulnerable populations and sacrificial scapegoats; the suppression of dissent; military expansion and a state of permanent war; militarized police forces acting as aggressive occupying armies in targeted communities; constant surveillance and ritual searches of everyday citizens and residents; arrogant scorn and disdain for the arts, for intellectual life, and for reason and evidence; and widening disparities between the haves and the have-nots, and the fatal entangling of corporations with government as the “public square” is decimated.
These and other examples of extreme social disintegration are all visible right here in front of our eyes. They are—in brief—an outline of the Trump/Pence political campaign of 2016, and the parameters of the regime’s program for 2017.
Make no mistake: it’s a blueprint for a form of friendly-looking and familiar fascism—autocratic despotism with an American face.
The predicament we find ourselves in is no sudden reversal, no shocking disconnect from the path the country’s been pursuing for years, and, in fact, we’ve been on this road—step by treacherous step—for decades now. A deliberate bipartisan effort has brought us to the point of permanent war, mass incarceration, a hollowed out economy based on “austerity”—privatization, dismantling social safety nets, crushing unions, liquidating jobs—the relentless attack on public education, the devastation of independent media, the eclipse of the public, and more. There are variations to be sure, and they sometimes matter, but too often these amount to a distinction without a difference. The Republicans offer racist dog-whistles and overt white supremacist policies, for example; the Democrats respond with “diversity” and the optics of multiculturalism, but they do not offer what we need and deserve: a program of racial, economic, and global justice.
This is why no one should rely on the Democratic Party to lead the opposition—the Party is ill-prepared, disinclined, and too wrapped up in every policy and program that got us here.
But the real, authentic opposition is not starting from scratch—Black Lives Matter, the latest iteration of the centuries-old Black Freedom Movement, has been a leading voice and a powerful force on the ground for progress and against white supremacist power for years now, exposing the never-ending serial shootings of Black citizens and generating innovative programs for comprehensive revitalization; “undocumented and unafraid” youth have been rising and winning; Standing Rock is here, fighting for environmental justice and Indigenous rights; women are not going back to the Middle Ages; “we’re queer/we’re here” is on the move; and on and on.
Millions of people are enraged and energized right now; many have acted up and spoken out spontaneously; many more have organized and vowed to resist. And be clear: the best preparation for a determined and serious struggle in the long run is to throw ourselves into the fight to stop the Trump/Pence putsch right now. Come to Washington, take to the streets, refuse to normalize or accommodate to fascism.
And most important, remember that social movements make social change possible, and social movements always involve building fire from below.
“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever…it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.” ~~~Herman Melville
Let’s get to sea as soon as we can—the sea of organizing and mass mobilization.
Our responsibility is to organize, to act, and to transform both ourselves and our world.
Even though there’s no ready recipe to follow, in a situation like this one, everyone can dive in and find important work to do.
Here’s a start:
GATHER! We can only build a more powerful movement from the bottom up. Call a meeting of your fellow workers, your neighbors, your faith community, the folks in your building or on your block; begin with questions: Where are we, and where should we be heading? What can we do together? Don’t get too lost in petitioning power—build your own agency, your own collective power.
LEARN TO TALK TO ONE ANOTHER AND FORGE UNITY! We have to re-frame the conversations, and we need to learn to meet one another across issues, organizations, and histories. We may differ among ourselves on strategy and tactics, but we can learn to unite on fundamental matters of principle. We need to go to the root, find the common ground, and discover and articulate the ethical and moral base of our common struggle.
BUILD A SOCIAL MOVEMENT! We must connect economic justice with racial justice and global justice. We can find joy and purpose in living a life of resistance in these troubled times. We can also find ways to live our lives together in beloved community, against materialism, war, violence, and hierarchy. We must join together solidly, and work to forge an unbreakable collaboration.
MAKE SANCTUARY A REALITY! Create spaces to protect the vulnerable, to resist, and to defend the organizers and the activists. Lay down moral markers that illuminate the threats to our humanity and our collective survival. Live the alternatives.
EDUCATE! We need to educate ourselves and engage in authentic dialogue with friends and strangers alike—each of us committed to listening with the possibility of being heard, and speaking with the possibility of being changed. Form a reading group and share important books and articles, or a movie-going group, or a pot-luck conversation once a month.
THE TIME TO ACT UP IS NOW! Our challenge is to crack the pretense of normalcy in this political moment, to break the conspiracy of silence by which both establishment political parties, the bought media, and the political class mute public debate. Deep and radical change requires the mobilization of an engaged social movement, and the cooperation of an enlightened political leadership emerging from (or empowered by) that movement.
“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”~~~Cree Prophecy
To be shocked at the outcome of the presidential election is understandable; to be shocked and disbelieving weeks later indicates a lack of understanding about the nature of the country we live in, its terrible unresolved history and its living white supremacist base. To gain our balance, Bernardine and I have been channeling some of our favorite foremothers and forefathers. Ella Baker was an organizer and a fighter her whole life; she was the mother of SNCC and a major force in the Civil Rights Movement, and she lived long enough to see many of the gains challenged and set back with the Southern strategy and the rise of the right. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, freed himself and became a leader of the Abolitionist movement and an architect of Black Reconstruction, and he lived long enough to witness the Hayes Compromise and the unleashing of white terrorism and the rise of the KKK. What did these great freedom fighters do in the gathering dread and darkness? They got up, dusted themselves off, and set out to organize and fight back. We can do nothing less.
Another world is surely coming—greater equality, socialism, participatory democracy, and peace are within our reach, but nuclear war, work camps and slavery, the crushing of dissent and the shredding of civil liberties are also real possibilities. There are still choices and options, and nothing is guaranteed. Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? Barbarism or socialism?
Let’s get busy!
“History is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that… one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror, because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history.” ~~~James Baldwin