This thought has been spinning in my head all week.
What if direct-action organizing — the defensive kind against bosses, landlords, policing — were like soccer?
I’m not really talking the professional leagues, and the business of spectator sport and fandom. I’m talking the most popular game on the planet.
Little kids all over the world learning to play.
Almost anywhere you go, you can find people to get down with.
Everyone knows the basics. You might have your strengths in certain roles, but you can also switch it up.
It’s like a common language you carry with you, that lets you connect with strangers.
I mean, it already happens some, right? People who aren’t professional/paid organizers still gotta get together from time to time to defend one another. Just this week here in the Bay, there’s about to be
(1) planning an action against an e-verify immigration raid on grocery store chain Mi Pueblo
(2) court support for a young queer Cuban woman facing BS injunction charges and $1 million bail
(3) a picket at Domino’s Pizza in solidarity with Australian workers whose wages got slashed by 19%
(4) a city hall protest demanding justice for Alan Blueford, a young Black unarmed man killed by cops
(5) a rally in solidarity with Grand Jury resistors in the Pacific Northwest
And that’s only the shit that I happen to hear about! There could be much more! Not to mention the ongoing organized work around transforming and healing intimate violence, and connecting that with state violence and capitalism. That part of organizing.
Still, in my experience with this ad hoc organizing, a lot of times it feels like reinventing the wheel, or speaking completely different languages even in terms of nuts-and-bolts stuff. It’s not like I can come in and be like, “Okay you’re gonna be right forward? Cool, I’ll be goalie.” Unless you’re working within a well-established organization, nonprofit, etc (which has its own issues, and is more like the pro leagues), chances are the organizing might end up looking like four-year-olds’ soccer, with most of the kids clustered around the ball like a bunch of grapes, and a few out on their own making daisy chains or hunting for four-leaf clovers.
Which is great! …for a start. But then, you want to get hooked. You want to improve. You want to win, and you want to learn how to be a better player and teammate.
You may have noticed that Kloncke contains lots of pictures. Pictures of mundane things, like the apartment. And Brassica oleracea. There’s not a lot of information, or opinion, or blueprints for fomenting feminist revolution. No hard reportage. Walking away from the world of political New Media, with its fast-paced news addictions and adrenaline rushes, is not easy on the ego, I can tell you that much. In comparison to what I used to write about, the things I now post seem frivolous and bourgie. Sharing them requires a good amount of pride swallowing: it was much easier, honestly, to write about, say, connections among environmental nativism, sexism, and anti-immigration. But my dear friend Ellen, in an email yesterday, beautifully expressed a purpose of the site that I hadn’t quite articulated to myself:
I was just reading through your blog and thinking about how healing ourselves necessarily involves elemental things like food (one of my too-many jobs right now is all about food policy, actually, and I love how it’s gently pushed me toward feeding myself better) and family and good lighting (good work w/ your place!!) and practical skills and walking/biking along riverbanks.
Ellen is right: healing is largely about getting down to basics. Which brings us back to the question of reality (what could be more basic?) and how on earth a cybernetic hallucination could bring us closer to it.
Reality isn’t a place so much as a relationship, or an attitude that each one of us can take toward what’s around us. In my experience, it’s a mixture of calm and curiosity, a kind of lilting interest. It welcomes and enjoys pleasure, but doesn’t obsess over it. It recognizes and honors pain, but doesn’t demonize it. This orientation reflects reality not because it’s one-dimensionally true, but because it allows us to see what’s really going on.
Now, what’s really going on includes, as we know:
things more important than photos of what yours truly is having for breakfast
Again, this blog isn’t about acting on these Big Things. Nope. But it is about small-r reality: trying to pay attention. Joyful attention. To the things that happen offline. And as a warm, friendly space dedicated to embracing ordinary wonders, I hope it can help restore us for whatever struggles we undertake.
A list. A hallucinatory diary of genuine gratitude. A different spin on the reality-based community.
Four years later, I’ve come so far, to the exact same spot.
Things more important than what I’m having for breakfast.
Well, that’s why they call it practice, I s’pose.
Revolutionary or not, “embracing ordinary wonders” is precisely what I’ve been feeling disconnected from, these past few months. And as we know, contentment is only partly about how many Wanted Things happen to us. It’s also (or even mostly) about how much gratitude and equanimity we generate. (Hence book titles like Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness Is An Inside Job.)
Objectively, GREAT THINGS HAVE BEEN HAPPENING TO AND AROUND ME!
Hardworking organizers and wonderful people swim in the seas I swim in!
I get to go to eviction defense actions and they are interesting and successful!
(See how I snuck a militant direct action in there? Pride: sometimes you get the better of me.)
But I seem to be living as a hungry ghost. No matter how much beauty surrounds me, it’s not enough. I am not enough.
His lecture blew my mind on a few levels (maybe a whole nother post on that, sometime). But one of points he made that hit home hardest for me was the observation that political engagement, or activism, can actually serve as a kind of addiction: insofar as we use it to try to fill a personal sense of lack. He gets at a similar idea in this interview about the Hungry Ghosts book:
Question: The title of your book has its origins in the Buddhist Wheel of Life. In the Hungry Ghost Realm, people feel empty and seek solace from the outside, from sources that can never nourish. In what ways is our culture trapped in this realm? What can society learn from drug addicts who take the feelings of lack that everyone has, to the extreme? Gabor Maté: Much of our culture and our economy are based on exploiting people’s sense of emptiness and inadequacy, of not being enough as we are. We have the belief that if we do this or acquire that, if we achieve this or attain that, we’ll be satisfied. This sense of lack and this belief feed many addictive behaviors, from shopping to eating to workaholism. In many respects we behave in a driven fashion that differs only in degree from the desperation of the drug addict.
I don’t have the presence of mind to write too much on this tonight, but I want to reflect on this observation from my own life:
When I feel no pressure to be or do any particular thing, creative growth and learning flow freely, but much of my activity tends to be apolitical. Eventually, the urge for political engagement either suddenly arises, or creeps back in like a tide.
Once I get invested in the idea of being a student of political organizing, or being a revolutionary, that free-flowing sense of self-sufficiency dies away, and I find myself wanting/needing to improve and measure up, more and more. Never enough.
Obviously, the desire to improve is not a bad thing — and I know what the healthy, natural, yet vigorous version feels like. It’s just that I don’t know what it feels like in the political realm.
And THAT probably has more to do with me, and my own issues, than ‘the political realm’ itself.
For the past two months, I was subletting a beautiful bedroom, in a beautiful house, with a beautiful backyard garden. On the few occasions when I invited friends over, nearly all of them marveled at the house. The splendid plants, the white piano, the cozy front-porch armchair, the kitchen swimming in sunlight. Each time, my stomach would turn, and I would shrink with awkwardness. It’s the same experience I have, sometimes, in a gorgeous, hip little coffeehouse in a gentrifying Bay Area neighborhood. The glass terrariums with their jewel-like moss and succulents. The indoor hanging bike racks and convenient public tire pump. The fancy teas in Mason jars on worn wood tables. The queer styles and asymmetrical haircuts. I enjoy these places, and I often avoid them (and not just for my wallet’s sake). They induce a special queasiness, the disquieting pleasantness of displacement.
This house — the house where I was staying: the landlords/housemates who owned it (1) run a nonprofit that “celebrates the earth-based traditions of Judaism,” and (2) have deep ties to community in Israel. Neither of these two facts poses an inherent problem. But I wondered, and I worried. Was my live-in landlords’ earthy loveliness part of the soft face of oppression?
Determined to “make the desert bloom”, an international organisation — the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (JNF-KKL, or JNF) planted forests, recreational parks and nature reserves to cover over the ruins of Palestinian villages, as refugees were scattered far from, or worse, a few hilltops away from, the land upon which they and their ancestors had based their lives and livelihoods.
Today, as Israel portrays itself as a “green democracy”, an eco-friendly pioneer in agricultural techniques such as drip irrigation, dairy farming, desert ecology, water management and solar energy, Israeli factories drain toxic waste and industrial pollutants down from occupied West Bank hilltops into Palestinian villages, and over-pumping of groundwater aquifers denies Palestinians access to vital water sources in a context of increasing water scarcity and pollution.
For me, this echoes painfully with the doctrine of “manifest destiny,” and the US colonizer history that continues to romanticize the “purple-mountain majesty” of a land bloodied by genocide and slavery. Again — not that all environmental groups endorse or perpetuate (whether tacitly or overtly) colonialism and genocide. But some have, and some do.
How did my landlords understand this pattern of greenwashed settler colonialism, and view their connection to it as US Jewish leaders practicing earth-based spirituality in deep community with people in Israel/Palestine?
I couldn’t ask. I was afraid. Not so much of what they would say, but of the potential fracas that might ensue from even raising the question. A fracas that would probably mean bad news for a certain tenant.
For similar reasons, the entire time I was staying in their house I avoided bringing friends around. What if they criticized Israel within earshot of the people who owned my home?
I mentioned my landlord quandary the other day to a friend of mine — a friend whose political opinions I deeply respect, and who has done organizing work around Boycott-Divest-and-Sanction of Israel (BDS) in solidarity with Palestinian people. At first, he pushed back and questioned why I hadn’t raised my concerns with my housemates soon after moving in with them.
In general, I agree — if Person A has a problem with Person B, it’s far better to ask Person B about the issue directly. Otherwise, Person A will likely go on making assumptions, resigning themselves to semi-resentful eggshell walking — if not all-out passive-aggression.
I also agree with my friend that if I wanted to, I could potentially use my Jewish ancestry — Holocaust, distant family in Israel, etc. — to make certain arguments in a way that could be somewhat easier for my housemates to hear. Maybe.
And yet. California legislators lump together well-founded criticism of the state of Israel with attacks on Jewishness itself. Was it unreasonable to infer that my landlords may share this belief? They may not — I absolutely grant that possibility. But was I willing to risk outraging them to find out?
My answer: no. At least not alone, not while I was living under their roof (without an easy fallback plan), and not while the potential payoff was so limited. After all, these are not folks with a ton of power (I don’t think), and neither are they people with whom I anticipate remaining in community. If they were my family, or my sangha, or big-time school administrators, it might be a different story.
moving into new apartment; first time living alone at length. same pillows, same books, even some shoes and jackets that have stuck with me since high school. (what can i say — i had good taste, even then. :) houseplants have made it over safely. enjoying the new shower.
i had reservations about getting a place by myself. fears that i might stay cooped up, isolated, cut off, a prisoner to my own shyness. but more than that, i felt somehow wary of the luxury of a studio. was this yet another step toward bourgieness and sellout-dom? first a non-profit co-director job, now this? what’s next: a timeshare in Waikiki? am i turning into the following hilarious yet terrifying caricature?
Are you tired? No, I mean, really tired? You feel it in your bones, don’t you? In your sinews. It hurts to sit on the floor. No-one you’ve met in the activist milieu has expressed sexual interest in you for years. You’ve worked so very, very hard. Perhaps it’s time you made The Non-Profit Transition.
I mean, you’ve sacrificed so much of your life to this bullshit; why can’t you maybe do something for yourself, as well? Is that so bad? Partnering with Shell just means you’re hustling them for their money. You’re being realistic; your critics are being naive/haters/too young to understand. This workshop is presented in a series of lectures, including:
— Unlike You, I Deserve To Get Paid
— Actually This Politician Is Basically On Our Side
— You’ll Want Health Insurance Too When You’re My Age
— I’m Going To Radicalize This Organization From The Inside
— “Siri, How Do I Sell Out?” Embracing The Technology Fetish
Meeting Time/Location: All lectures are available as “TED Talk” Webinars to be viewed at your convenience on your iPad from the nursery room of your suburban ranch house.
worries about inclinations toward selling out have come to visit more and more often these days. worries that boil down to: I Like The Wrong Things.
i date white men. (not by principle, just by ‘chance,’ though i know it’s not so simple.) i have many white friends. (same deal.) i like wine. i listen to Motown. i frequent coffeeshops like this. i seem to be on a path to becoming a professional! (professional at what? unclear.)
politically, i find myself drawn to making strategic alliances with non-profits. not cynical, i’m-shaking-your-hand-but-Fuck-You-is-written-on-my-forehead kind of alliances. but the kind where i actually try to learn from what certain non-profits do well, form trusting relationships, and at the same time be honest (and hopefully persuasive) about my political views on the limitations of non-profits, as much as possible.
non-profits and anti-oppression cultural workers hold things that speak to me, and yet a number of revolutionaries i most admire seem to write off non-profits entirely: approaching them, to borrow a metaphor from Junot Díaz, “as one might hold a baby’s beshatted diaper, as one might pinch a recently benutted condom.” so i worry that in reality i’m just being naïve, seduced by the old siren song of POC / feminist / queer / disabilities justice / cultural etc. etc. sparkle that will never ever, in my view, lead to the overthrow of capitalism, though i’ll be the first to testify it feels damn good to be surrounded by hella cute powerful brilliant social-justicey people who often fill concrete needs of poor and working-class communities.
if the appeal of Liking The Right Things (whether exclusively Black Love or a hard line against band-aid service work) were merely a matter of superficial “coolness” or fitting in (wearing the right clothes, speaking the right slang), it would be easier to shrug off. i’ve dealt with The Cool before.
but as i observed even then, The Cool (or the desire to Be Something) is sneaky. It practices pseudocopulation: disguising itself as the thing you’re really after.
what is it that i am after?
sometimes it feels like i’m trying to scrub off the birthmarks of liberalism. other times it feels like i need space to be curious and happy about whatever it is that i feel curious and happy about, and trust that i will find ways of steering those interests back into a healthy political direction.
“guilty pleasures” doesn’t really capture the level of confusion here. it’s more like “incongruent interests.” or something similarly unsexy sounding.
do you have incongruent interests? what do you do with them? do they make you feel divided, well-rounded, mundane?