is the fifth article of a 7-part series that will focus on the issues
in our radical movements that I think need our immediate and ongoing
attention. I am using the ancient eastern concept of chakras for the
body as a parallel to our movement’s energy wheel. Healers
believe sickness occurs when the body’s chakras are blocked or
out of alignment. Likewise, the U.S. Left and our social justice
movements need our collective introspection, analysis and adjustments
that lead to unblocking our energy/chi points. A weakened Left, and
especially the Black Left, have been unable to provide this critical
guidance over the last twenty years. I do not have the space to go
too deep into my thinking although I have been pondering and talking
about this very subject for a few years now. I am looking to
stimulate a higher level of principled discussion about how to
energize and organize the social forces coming into play at this
pivotal juncture in history and how we can rebuild a formidable
radical movement in this country.
yourselves from mental slavery
but ourselves can free our minds.”
Song, Bob Marley
social movement can be schizophrenic about how we treat one another.
While we can be a loving, caring bunch of folks, we can also be
mean-spirited and self-serving. Whether you call yourself a
progressive or a revolutionary, movement forces don’t always
live up to our lofty principles. This article will focus on how our
movement deals with disruptive, inhumane and criminal behaviors
amongst us. It’s time to discover the chakra of redemption as a
more humane way of dealing with contradictions. The pre-requisites to
redemption are accountability and humility.
organizations and social movement have at least two issues going on
in the arena of negative behaviors. One is how we deal with
self-criticism and criticism, and recognize the importance of
integrating the practice in our work styles in a healthy,
non-punitive way. The other is the need for an established recourse
for when one of our own has done mental, physical, social and
financial harm to a person or to an organization in our movement.
These two realms are inextricably connected and our movement has
dealt with both in a half-hearted, superficial way.
movement can’t seem to engage in healthy, principled debates
nor do people feel open to expressing legitimate disagreements. We
have developed some crafty tactics to shift or shut down debate. If a
heterosexual disagrees with a non-cis person, s/he is labeled
homophobic. If a white ally raises a critique, they are dismissed as
racist. If a male has a different assessment than a female, his
patriarchy is called into question. If a Jewish person is presented
with a valid criticism, it must be rooted in anti-Semitism. If an
elder shares an opposing viewpoint with a younger person, a charge of
respectability politics is hurled back. The goal for engaging in
political or ideological discussion is to reach a higher level of
unity and clarity. If this process is discouraged, stifled or
rebuked, our movement will operate on a shaky unity and a guaranteed
confusion about our strategic goals. Unity-struggle-unity means one
comes to the circle seeking unity (not a fight); this allows for a
genuine struggle of ideas or tactics that should lead to improved
relationships and a deeper unity about moving forward.
media is often misused as a forum to raise criticisms about people or
groups. Facebook is the last place you should come to resolve a
problem or misunderstanding because then it’s clear that you
aren’t interested in resolution, you want to engage in
character assassination. We know from history that these kinds of
infantile political tantrums only serve our enemies (police, FBI).
Veteran human rights activist Harry Belafonte brought this warning to
young protesters when he came to Ferguson; he had been informed of
their vicious barbs being exchanged over the internet.
political and personal attacks, sabotage of work, bullying, malicious
gossip, destruction of property, adultery, embezzlement, theft,
domestic violence, assault, rape, child molestation, etc. There’s
a range of contradictions flourishing within our ranks from political
misdeeds to acts considered criminal under U.S. law. I’ve been
in numerous organizations over my adult life. I’ve witnessed
their devastating effect on individuals and their families as well as
the organizations involved. Crimes against persons in our movement
frequently go unpunished because we don’t want to turn
perpetrators over to the state for its special brand of just-us. Yet,
we’ve developed no alternative process or internal mechanism to
hold people accountable, to challenge their behavior and to
ultimately change that behavior.
you think I’m talking about bustin’ knee caps with a
baseball bat or throwing people in the river with a cement block tied
around their neck, I suggest we turn to Chairman Mao. The two
approaches below have helped me over the years to stay grounded when
dealing with movement conflict. In 1942 Mao saw how people in China
were confusing the two and we can certainly see it in 2017.
said, “In treating an ideological or a political malady, one
must never be rough and rash but must adopt the approach of "curing
the sickness to save the patient", which is the only correct and
the contradictions among the people, Mao advised us that there are
contradictions “between ourselves and the enemy and those among
the people…the two are totally different in nature.” The
inescapable vapors of capitalist ideology affect the entire society.
Those of us doing the hard work of transformation must have an
accurate understanding of how these capitalist toxins affect us and
our organizing. Our organizations can be proactive in saving the
patient if first we have created trusting and supportive environments
and if the patient wants to be saved.
way the movement people deal with one another cannot be the same way
in which we deal with enemy forces. In too many instances, our
response is even harsher towards each other than we are towards the
enemy. We need to call this behavior out whenever it happens because
it is dangerous. But it can’t stop there. The patient must
understand the harm s/he has done, own it and submit her/himself to a
collective process of accountability and healing. This takes both
humility and trust of the process. The collective must be loving but
firm in supporting the purge of negative behavior before we jump to
purge the individual. There were plenty of purges during the Black
Power Movement and the New Communist Movement but such extreme acts
seldom resulted in a more healthy and democratic organization.
Instead it produced fear, resentment, paranoia and the departure of
many committed freedom fighters.
publicly raised the issue of redemption in my article titled
“#Cutthecheck is not a Movement” and again when I
responded to a distressing Facebook post by a Ferguson activist who
revealed personal pain caused by other activists. Both of my
responses generated interest for the need to build into our movement
structure the mechanisms to hold people accountable. Our movement
leaves many victims in its wake; they must be made whole too.
Bob Marley sings, we must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.
That’s going to take real effort by the individual and the
collective. While we are creating paths of redemption, we will also
have to establish ways of dealing with incorrigibles who continue to
wreak havoc in our political spaces despite our most determined
efforts. If there are groups who have working models for dealing with
internal conflict, I would encourage them to share widely so that
people don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
would redemption look like in our movement? I think that the emphasis
should be put on justice and restoring people and organizations to a
place of wholeness. The starting place should be understanding that
we all have been socialized under capitalism. Some people’s
lives have been more traumatic that others. That means we act up and
act out. Our movement must be proof that we are capable of change or
else we can’t expect the masses of people to be believe that
real transformation is possible. Our organizations should engage in
consistent and just approaches to root out hegemonic behaviors
whenever they rear their ugly heads. Just remember, the patient is
our campanero in struggle not the enemy.
the redemption chakra is unfettered, I think we will experience
people in our movement truly striving for to exceed their human
potential. We will support one other so that we become our best
selves for the movement and new society we are creating. This will
lead to an invincible movement that is as compassionate to our people
as it is merciless to our enemies.
article: Unblocking the chakra of summation.