I understand why so many of us are lashing out on each other. I understand why the level of trash talking is rising high along with outrage for Trump and the horror show of his election. Having been involved in grassroots social justice efforts for most of my life, I know that when the ability to tangibly impact structural oppression feels so remote, and when that structural oppression is accelerating, many on the Left begin devouring ourselves, turning our efforts that seem to have little impact on structural oppression into critiquing each other and eventually, ourselves.
Voldemort and the Death Eaters are on the march, and the dementors work their evil by getting us obsessed with the many shortcomings of our movements, and then eventually, our own shortcomings, to the point where our sense of possibility, our belief in revolutionary change, our love for one another, our powerful solidarity, all begins to erode and hollow out.
There is important work that needs to be done to evaluate our shortcomings, to discuss what isn’t working, to name and challenge ways that white supremacy, patriarchy, and supremacy systems are narrowing our values, our strategies, our work cultures and how we treat each other. And far too often people marginalized by structural supremacy are silenced, told not to be so negative when pointing out what isn't working, or are told their tone is too confrontational.
The work of helping our movements think and grow is crucial, but what I’m talking about is critique coming from a place of taking our pain, fear, grief, anger and disappointment out on each other. I know that in times like this, when so much is to be done, nearly everything falls short, nearly everything is far less than what we need, but that’s the point: in tear down culture of critique, we make it nearly impossible to build up to where we need to be. There is a nuance, between critique that builds towards, and critique that tears down, and it’s a nuance we need.
My practice and my encouragement when you feel the grip of the dementors, when you see it erupting on Facebook groups, in activist circles, amongst friends and comrades, is to unleash the power of revolutionary gratitude that roots our appreciation for the everyday work of our people, of our movements, of our leaders, that roots that appreciation in a structural analysis of the forces we are up against (so we don't take it for granted), which places that appreciation in historical context (so that we see that we are of a people who believe in liberation in the face of death, on the face of annihilation, in the face of hopelessness), and places our appreciation into the vision of what we want so that we call ourselves forward into being the movement we need, the movement we need to win.
My encouragement is to see and give gratitude especially to those of us who are from structurally marginalized communities, who are bringing feedback, bringing leadership, and being met with silence or resistance. To see and give gratitude to those you see taking risks in these times to help our movement move forward from a place of possibility in the midst of the nightmare.
Do not be fooled by the myth of revolutionary militancy looking and acting hard and ruthless. Our revolutionary militancy calls on us to love and believe so courageously that the dementors fall in failure and we march, with vision, with possibility, with gratitude, against the death eaters and the nightmare of supremacy systems.
Each time you feel critique eroding your spirit, I invite you to send notes of gratitude to your comrades, to our organizations and communities, to networks of activists we are part of, to people we admire but rarely speak to, to people in your community doing often thankless tasks that maintain your ability to be a community, to people in your life who you want to bring into your heart, and to lift their spirits for the work ahead.
And this practice isn’t just about being more kind and loving towards each other. It’s a practice of moving us from a place of primarily seeing shortcomings and feeling defeated, towards seeing possibilities to become the organizations, communities, activists, leaders, and campaigns we need, in order to win. It’s a practice of being able to see and name steps that people and groups are taking to move us towards our goals, and affirming the work making that happen. It’s a practice of bringing people along rather then shutting them down and it helps prepare us to not just be protesters of the injustices of existing society, but to be co-creators of the society we are working towards.
As my Unitarian Universalist faith encourages, "let us love the hell out of this world". As my socialist commitment encourages, “let us make love a revolutionary force that institutionalizes justice and liberation in the ways society operates and is governed."
Thank you to Kenny Wiley, Tariq Khan, Sherrie Noble, and Eli Gerzon for feedback.