so you’re woke. now what?

on november 9, millions of americans woke up and for the first time realized this country is racist, and sexist, and classist, and many other -ists. maybe you’re one of them. maybe you started wearing a safety pin (0.5 woke points), or maybe you called your senator about #noDAPL (3 woke points), or maybe you took a class on intersectionality in college (5 woke points).

i’m just kidding. there is no such thing as woke points, because wokeness is not a competition (use of ‘woke’ while non-black: minus 50 woke points). in all seriousness, i’m noticing an epidemic of people who are beginning to have a social justice political analysis, or who have had a political analysis for a while, but who do not have a method to act on that analysis. 

it’s great that many more people are beginning to develop their political consciousnesses. please continue! read here and here and here and here. but while i do believe social media is an important aspect of 21st century discourse production, sitting around saying what’s wrong with the world is not going to change it. and i say this as someone who sits around quite a bit saying what’s wrong with the world. 

one issue with the sole focus on social criticism is that it tears things down, but it does not build. and creating is harder than destroying. as an educator, i am always thinking about how to create entry points for people just discovering the work. what enables me to have empathy for people wearing safety pins is reflecting upon when i was, quite frankly, a privileged little shit, and what it took to get me to this point, and where i still need to go. how do we move people from wearing safety pins to being on the front lines of resistance?

working in community-based art for the past few years, this is where i think socially engaged art is helpful in providing an entry point to praxis. perhaps people don’t know how to organize a campaign. but they can make a visualization on paper. and i’ve seen that one material realization of an idea be the starting point for many, many more forms of material realization. i’ve heard many participants in community arts project say, “i never thought i could be an artist”. maybe it’s time we find a way to change that phrase to “i never thought i could be an activist”. 

having a political analysis is meaningless if you cannot practice your words: if you constantly flake out on others, if you speak but never listen, if you perpetuate toxic masculinity or colorblindness while criticizing patriarchy or structural racism. but praxis also looks different for every individual. for some it’s getting involved in organizing efforts. for others it just looks like staying alive. however, it is up to you to be self conscious of your praxis, able to articulate it in relationship to your political analysis, and willing to self reflect and self challenge. 

as a political educator, i commit to the task of sharing tools, building bridges between analysis and action, and constantly learning and holding myself accountable. here are some places where you can start, and i’m more than happy to share resources offline or directly. 

in these times more than ever, we must hold each other close and love each other, and in the words of dr. cornel west—“never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

(so stop with all that ‘all we need is love’ crap—seriously!)

on dissociation and trauma in texas social justice organizing

one of my greatest epiphanies during allied media conference 2016 were the words, “dissociation is a survival strategy”. that, coupled with sessions on queering martial arts and decolonizing christianity, made me realize that i had been repressing so many parts of myself, so much deep pain and trauma in my past and present, in order to be present enough to do my social justice work in texas.

texas is a hostile environment for anyone who is positioned outside of the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy. it is a place where because there are few government structures in place to act as a buffer, the violence and hatred from people within the white imperialist supremacist heteropatriarchy can be felt immediately and distinctly.

ever since returning to texas, and witnessing the policing, poverty, and racism in my neighborhood on a daily basis, i’ve been engaging in measures of self numbing. first it was alcohol, then it was netflix, now it’s sleeping. until the mass shooting in orlando happened, forcing all my emotions to the forefront, i had repressed the fact that i literally feared for my life and well being as someone who does not subscribe to heteronormativity. and that, instead of naming this fear that seized my brain on a daily basis, it was easier to sleep. it was easier to come home from a meeting with an extremely racist person in power and watch netflix, than it was to cry out the weariness in my body. this was because if i cried at that, i would find reasons to cry every day, and my body and work would not be able to bear it.

as someone who has been managing intergenerational, familial, and societal trauma my entire life, i’m only starting to realize that trauma has always affected the ways in which i can be involved in social justice movements, and that i’ve always felt a pinge of resentment at those who work in this space untouched by the trauma of structural violence (white people, this is why you get the side eye). i am also highly aware in my current practice, how much more slowly my work progresses because i spend so much time managing trauma, and how much of a better and more capable person i am when i am in safe spaces that don’t require such degrees of repression.

related to this, i had an incredibly healing conversation with a friend from seattle on effective ways of practicing transformative justice. these words of hers really resonated with me, “transformative justice is a process that takes years, and the way it’s practiced means there’s not any huge success stories that you can refer to.”. can we relate this to the healing we need to see in our communities, and in ourselves? and can we relate this to a critique of the charity-nonprofit industrial complex?

working in collaboration with charities and nonprofits, it seems that those who can, do. but those who can’t, don’t because they are the most affected who are too busy engaging in survival practices of managing trauma. and yet it is imperative to center the experiences of those who are most affected and this is something that i struggle with practicing within a charity-nonprofit industrial complex context.

people managing trauma require different forms of care and consideration, but we are not powerless. it is a testament to our power that we’ve already survived this far. reflecting on the texas context has taught me that we need to build better spaces for holding the ways in which we cope – whether it be through numbing or through catharsis – because there is so much hostility coming from every direction. we also need to build understandings that we are capable of grieving and being, coping and doing within the same lifetime. it just might take a little longer or look a little different from how we traditionally construct narratives of social change. maybe there is no heroic turning point or outcome. our trauma should not be the reason that we are barred from working for social change. if anything, our trauma holds the wisdom to our liberation.