the antidote to authoritarianism is you

(last week i was blessed to offer some thoughts to my spiritual community, sharing in case they can support others)

i saw the topic Malkia selected today: the antidote to authoritarianism is you – and i’m going to aim for it, but i have to start with this moment of impossible disappointment and grief, this week feels like one that has just escalated the stakes for hopelessness. i’m going to start at the beginning for me…

i started the week feeling this sense of discontent. it’s black history month and too many black geniuses are being snubbed and shut out of the grammys and oscars and honors we have earned and overwhelmingly deserve. and on one hand it feels embarrassing to care about these awards in any way, and on the other hand it feels like the same forces holding those doors of history closed are trying to keep our humanity small, keep us in the myth of inferiority. and every month, and especially this one, i feel aware of how much we have survived and how impossible it is to have to exert our humanity against the limiting beliefs of those who hunger for our nonexistent inferiority. so i was in that swirl. 

but then this week our comrade jen angel was robbed in broad daylight in oakland. and she fought back, and sustained injuries and did not recover. this loss feels impossible to compute. jen made these incredible things – zines, clamor magazine (which published some of my earliest writing). she cofounded the midwest zine conference that grew into the allied media conference. and all this justice and direct action and community. and then cupcakes. and relationships rooted in justice. she was a fighter and a connector. in her absence many of us are feeling grief in the shape of that wide generalized anger that can tip into hopelessness – how have we taken this miraculous earth and generated conditions of such casual violence and such overwhelming need? 

and this week there was also this earthquake, shaking the world to rubble across turkey and syria. the day i learned about it there were 22,000 gone, i had to sit down and immediately pray. and each time i check the death toll it is even more than i can fathom – 28,000 this morning (47,000 as i post this). and the latest i read is that its increasing in part because the rescue teams are being diverted by violence amongst factions on the ground. 

and that violence amongst factions in the face of rescue feels too familiar. it feels like trying to do movement work as the police kill us and the fbi infiltrates us and even the philanthropists on our side pit us against each other in short term impossible timelines which rely on pushing rock stars into the light to gain attention, knowing we will destroy our leaders. 

these crises across scale and geography and culture and time wear us down. they can wear down the part of our collective body that functions as our immune system. i don’t know if it’s hope or radical clarity or optimism or faith, but the immune system is whatever parts of the body can stay solution oriented in the face of crisis, those who are willing to go head to head with the problem, even when the problem seems to be everywhere. the immune system is the internal antidote to what ails us.

antidote means the counter to a poison.

many of us are rooted in western medicine, which tells us that the antidote is a medicine we take for the most severe symptoms. but if we go deeper, older, further, we see that there is a wisdom about the system itself, indigenous, ancient, eastern – wisdom on how to fortify the foundation of our system. so i am applying that fractal wisdom of the immune system to our collective counter-to-the-poisons of this time. 

this past few years has been a deep dive in my/our understanding of immunity, and the impact it has on the individual and collective body, whether we can protect ourselves or not, and thus literally the level of freedom we can each practice in a world full of viruses and sicknesses. we have felt how isolation and loneliness can literally weaken our immune systems.

authoritarianism can take us down when our collective immune system is overwhelmed. when the crises are so much that we cannot remember our values, cannot remember we are community, cannot remember we know how to be with each other. in crisis, someone offers us stability in exchange for our freedom, and historically, humans have struggled to say no. 

so how do we keep our minds and attention on authoritarianism when our hearts are broken and the crisis is all around and the grief is more tangible than our dreams? 

i was moved by this theme because its about BEING something. we ARE the antidote. 

great, what does that mean? as big as all this impossible grief is, that’s how small the offers are in my hand, but they are still real and give me faith. 

so…back to the beginning of the week i am just going to share these small immune boosts.

this week i read two incredible articles by Black women about how the continuous renaissance of Black creative life is already beyond what any white supremacist structure can hold, and behind the scenes spoke with Black directors and artists about how we are uplifting each other and creating our own systems of honor. we are reclaiming the authority to honor our brilliance. 

buried under the most dire headlines out of turkey and syria are the quiet stories of miraculous community rescue efforts, uncovering survivors a week into the effort. which means there are people on the ground who are not getting distracted and who are working together to clear away the rubble and stay safe and be life moving towards life. we are reclaiming the authority to save each other. It’s not the sexiest story, but as important as the stories that break our hearts are the ones that mend them, and remind us that we can do miracles. 

buried under the headlines of u.s. movement drama there are incredible and inspiring projects and frameworks moving forward – we heard from maurice moe mitchell about his incredible article on building resilient, joyful movement organizations. that was a collective effort of risk to take responsibility for how we be with each other. i got to talk to some left roots organizers about their strategy supporting cadre organizations, which emerged from analytical assessment of what movement needs to not implode under the pressures of what we are facing – and i was reminded of the mycelial network of organizers always, always working out of and away from the spotlight. i got to speak with the fellows at the fund for new leadership and i wanted to cry at how fresh and hopeful and innovative they each were. we are reclaiming the authority to organize each other, to govern and change together.

and then there is jen. everything large is made up of small parts. our anti-authoritarian immune system is made up of leaders like jen. 

jen angel’s friends and family have made it clear that jen didn’t believe in incarceration. in the sharp moment of our grief, jen’s values provide a center line – abolition. transformative justice. they told everyone, they told the media, to focus on her life. they said, if you do find the person who did this to her, she would want you to engage in a restorative justice process that sees their humanity. this is the way. 

throughout the week as i have told my family and others about jen, i have been tender and grateful for the clarity of her politic. that it was so clear to everyone who loved her that she would not want someone locked up in her name, that she would never think reducing someone else’s freedom was the way to justice. i can see this value combat the carceral state in real time in their faces, to hear the possibility, to not let our grief be used to advance our opposition, but to let our grief be gratitude for the radical life that moves towards life. and she is an organ donor who will helping up to 70 people in that way. jen is still making, still communicating her values. 

when we say we are the antidote to authoritarianism we mean we, and everyone we know, and everyone we can reach, and our stranger comrades around the world who also move towards community and hold onto each other under the pressure to come apart.