The role of the ‘radical’ is no longer to be angry – it’s to be visionary, loving and solution oriented.
Can I say this?
I have heard others voice this redefinition, and when I hear it I feel a big amen inside me.
And then I start thinking of solution-oriented direct actions, since that’s my field. Liberating heat and water to communities when the government shuts them off. Guerilla gardens on rooftops and in abandoned lots. Reclaiming space to serve communities. Not thinking of front lines as spaces for aid and help, but as the actual front line in a battle for How we will be as humans, a line which we advance with our actions.
This is on my mind because today I joined my friend Roxana Zuniga, a PhD candidate at Wayne State, to speak with a group of students at Kalamazoo College, where a Center for Social Justice Leadership is being launched. Tomorrow we will speak with teachers and administrators at the college, but today was for the students.
Their questions had a lot to do with how to organize, how to go in and work with “marginalized” and “disenfranchised” communities, and how to make the impact long-lasting.
I realized listening to their questions, and their perspectives on their lives, how radical my perspective has always been, but how my definition of radical has shifted. I have felt and been fueled by righteous anger, but it wasn’t until I started honing my skill in developing vision and solutions that I truly became effective.
I also realized, as I always do with students, that there are key things I wish I had been told when I was a student, full of energy and wanting to change the world.
Here are some key points that emerged from our conversation as essential for a young college radical today:
1. Don’t come to help! Come to work and transform. Absolutely let yourself be moved into action by injustice, but start the transformation by looking around you. Look at your own practices – where you spend money, your taxes, how you treat people. Look at your family, your community…what could you change in your home or community that would have an impact regionally, nationally, or globally? Work to transform yourself and your community before you hop on a plane, train or bus to go “help” others.
2. Always learn (and teach) people to fish. Your impact will multiply if you think of every interaction as a potential exchange of ideas and skills that will continue to serve you and the community long after you leave. Don’t make folks dependent on you, especially if you’re out at the end of the semester or study abroad or summer.
3. Be clear about whether you are making a short-term or long-term commitment. If you’re in a space for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months, don’t pretend you are impacted in the same way that those who live there are, or that you know more than they do about what’s needed. If you chose to be there, and you can leave whenever you want, recognize that privilege.
An additional practice: learn to be in temporary community. Ruckus sets up action camps where folks can practice being in a community of action, equality, awareness, composting, outhouses, camping, and shared chores. We aren’t making a life-long commitment to hold these participants – we’re making a week-long commitment. The clearer we are about our commitment, the more present we can be.
4. The world is yours to experience, not experiment with. Keep a beginner’s mind, a learning mind, and look for the wisdom in everything, but honor and respect all the ways people are surviving in this world. Other humans are not yours to try things out on.
Other thoughts that occurred to me today:
Stop observing! Release the false notion that you can be objective, and recognize that you invest in a path for all of humanity with how you live, breath, think, and spend. Get off the wall and dance.
Read more science fiction! (Octavia Butler, William Gibson, Philip K Dick, Samuel R. Delaney and Ursula K. LeGuin to start with.) (Specifically, Parable of the Sower, Neuromancer, A Scanner Darkly, Dhalgren and The Left Hand of Darkness.)
Also, read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. All the way through. At least three times before you’re 25.