Here’s a revision of an old piece, which is about to be included in an anthology zine and will probably appear in Bitch King #6.
I Want to Live My Ethics, and I Want to Love You, too
So many activists act like we are only fighting to change the political and economic system. So many activists seem to think activism is being concerned with local, state, and federal governmental and economic policy. So many people act like abuse and oppression happens to other people, in other communities, but not ours. So many people act like they could never perpetuate abuse and violence, and look for it on others before they look into themselves. So many people channel their legitimate anger into scuffles with police, or in composing angry missives to Wal-Mart instead of examining the oppression they perpetuate in their everyday lives. So many people think that *only* creating our own little cliques to protect ourselves from pain is activism (this is very necessary work for healing, but if it’s the only thing we do, do we risk feeling “safe” for substantial change?).
***These systems we are forced to live in compromise, manipulate, and control our relations with each other. Recognizing and fighting this is just as important in our activism as deposing a dictator.***
Do you think that inequality stems from ignorance? Or have you lived a life where you can clearly point to the hierarchies that make up our everyday world as the causes of our suffering? I believe that denying the real hierarchies that rule this world, THE VERY HIERARCHIES THAT YOU OR I MAY SIT ON TOP OF, perpetuates injustice and suffering. Instead of feeling guilty (which is an avoidance of responsibility), why not acknowledge it and do something? Are you afraid to lose your status? Are you afraid of what happens when you disobey?
WE ALL WERE RAISED TO NEVER QUESTION HIERARCHY (in our family, in our schools, by our government, through “rehabilitation” in various forms). Being socialized to equate questioning authority with getting in trouble or BEING trouble begins in our families. This, followed quickly by everything else in the world, teaches us that obedience is goodness. We fear conflict, we fear pain, we fear digging into deeper truths, and our family is the first place we learn this. As we go out into the world, questioning the hierarchies associated with gender, skin color, nationality, sexuality, level of ability, economic class, languages spoken, ethnicity, and other identity markers, we find trouble, even amongst those we trust the most. We are taught everyday by every institution that people who question the status quo have something “wrong” with them, when the history of our world shows that these folks are usually visionaries. These visionaries can see far into the future, can see how our assumptions now affect the future, how what is too painful for us to acknowledge now will affect generations to come. This is why the first rule of Fight Club is to QUESTION THE STATUS QUO, even in a subculture. You may see your values and beliefs as rebellious, your group of friends as cutting-edge or doing something new. But if this “new” thing just creates a new hierarchy with you at the top, NOTHING IS CHANGING but who is in charge.
Just listening to some rebellious music and organizing some protests doesn’t mean that I have completely unbrainwashed myself from this system. Just because I work everyday teaching critical thinking and critical language use doesn’t mean I am exempt from perpetuating hierarchies. Just hanging with some awesome artists and activists isn’t enough to change this fucked up world. We all need to question hierarchy in the government and in our RELATIONSHIPS. Until you are willing to dismantle the deeply entrenched colonialism, white supremacy, misogyny, heterosexism, and cissexism that WE ALL PERPETUATE EVERY DAY IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER, then I am not sure that I want to organize with you. In fact, sadly, I am not sure I want to hang with you. I am tired of being triggered by this harm when I really need people who recognize their privilege and ACKONWELDGE IT AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT instead of blaming Nazis, politicians, or evil dragons for the abuse we do to each other. OUR DENIAL IS KILLING PEOPLE & DESTROYING SOLIDARITY. That pain goes somewhere–we hurt others and ourselves when we deny the reality of abuse. Emotional, verbal, physical, sexual abuse is real, and it is destroying us, internally. We face violence from those “outside” our cultures, and it is devastating. But to face violence from within can be soul-destroying.
This is the work of a lifetime, and it’s what is necessary to call myself a radical and an activist. I hope that within my lifetime I can get those closest to me to understand this, feel and know this, and understand why my concern for living my life in accordance with my values is so important to me. I am saying that I have, in some small and large ways, experienced what happens when you speak against a hierarchy. Clearly I have experienced this in my job, my schooling, in interactions with the state; what I refer to is the pockets of resistance we make to survive this violence—our subcultures. From the smallest punk scenes to the largest arts festivals, I have seen what happens when you question authority in a subculture that pretends its hierarchies are revolutionary because it’s “us” instead of “them” in charge. It is just as painful, and perhaps even more painful because I really believed in my subcultures. I trusted my friends and fellow artists.
This is what I am saying, my loves: we can’t make any change in our fucked up government until we change how we relate to EACH OTHER. Ask yourself: Do you pay attention to how you dominate a room? Do you self-reflect on how your behavior can hurt people, even if it wasn’t intentional? Do you think about who’s at the top of your personal hierarchies/beliefs systems and ask WHY? Do you ever think about the people who aren’t “in” when you live this way? Who do you listen to, and who do you ignore? What constitutes credibility to you? What little things can you do everyday to CHALLENGE HIERARCHY, the cause of all this suffering?? How can we move to a world where we don’t have to pay money to rich people just to exist? How can we come together while respecting difference? How can your behavior reinforce hierarchy or dismantle it??