Against Extinction

Barnett Newman, First Station, 1958 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Notes on building The Movement

HOW much blood has already been spilled to ensure the bloated, noxious appetite of the American Empire, to ensure the survival of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, the cis-hetero-patriarchy, borders, mass incarceration and detention? How much has been spilled to ensure the extinction of poor folks, black folks, brown folks, folks of Muslim faith, queer and trans folks, indigenous communities, immigrants, refugees, and radical leftist movements that demand liberation, self-determination, the right to live without unending degradation and violation? And how much more blood will be drawn?

I spent the three weeks leading up to the election in China for a family reunion thirty years in the making. I met a hundred new family members in one week. We rented out a party bus to the countryside and took over what used to be a farm that is now a resort for wealthy urban dwellers.

Most of my family had been sent out to work in the rural countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution for “re-education.” One of my uncles walked prematurely with a cane because of the twelve years he spent kneeling from dawn till dark in sub-zero temperatures in the Heilongjiang province. Several family members have permanent gastrointestinal damage from years of starvation and malnutrition. Some had been imprisoned. Some had their homes ransacked and burned. All harbored a kind of pain I cannot access or understand about the past. At night, people recounted stories of living under Mao during the Cultural Revolution. All the endings fell into one of several categories: death by execution, suicide, imprisonment, or torture. Some survived only to die decades later. Everyone, it occurred to me, had been maimed.

The question of what is it like to live under an autocratic dictator? has gone from a desire to understand my family to a desire to understand what will happen now. The fear I feel is as immense as the nonchalance my family feels: they don’t see the dictator in Trump. I don’t understand how they don’t feel imperiled by his rise, which is also the rise of white nationalism. I’m angry that they are first generation immigrants who want to close the door behind them. He’s obsessed with China, I said to my father regarding Trump two weeks ago, meaning, Don’t you see how that endangers you? Don’t you see the only Chinese people who will benefit from this are the ones in power who are not above slaughtering their own people? Then again, if not for white supremacy, China would be the most ruthlessly capitalist and vicious imperial power in the world right now. Then again, the sheer reach and the magnitude of damage that imperialism and white supremacy imprints on our souls can never be underestimated. I have to accept that my parents, who survived three decades of a genocidal demagogue whose promise of socialism was a practice of fascism, do not feel it is any more difficult now to survive than it was then. So I am in my reality and they are in theirs and still we live in the same world; and there are others, who have been legitimized and mobilized by Trump’s win, whose reality includes my extinction and my families’ extinction, and the extinction of anyone who is not white in America.

We have to resist extinction, resist violence, resist colonization, resist imprisonment and detention, resist deportation, resist an earth too warm and too toxic for human life, resist psychic and physical death, and risk being maimed if you haven’t been already, if we are to survive.

Now is the time for each one to teach many. My friend Lola, radical soul and nurse practitioner is holding an gynecological workshop at her apartment for anyone wanting to educate themselves on how to take care of their bodies and their reproductive health. If you can do the same, do the same. If you are an artist or activist in the public eye who has a record of speaking out against the white supremacist state, you need to protect yourself now because this is not the time for cruel optimism and denial, this is the time for sober pragmatism and idealism as frameworks for organizing a Movement for a safe and humane future. Secure your communications now. Candace Williams’s post on Medium, “70-Day Web Security Action Plan for Artists and Activists Under Siege” is thorough and useful. If you have tech skills, if you are computer literate, teach those who aren’t. Same if you have legal skills and really any skills that can be offered, taught, or shared. If you can afford it, take a self-defense class, even better if you can afford to gift someone who can’t pay to go with you. Impact is a fine organization that centers the empowerment of women and sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, and they have chapters in several cities. If you have space in your home, consider how it can be used to shelter, hide, protect, and feed those risking detention and/or deportation.

Meet with people in the flesh and write things down on paper. Organize solidarity hours and organize trainings for bystander intervention/de-escalation so we can do as much as possible to protect black, brown and Muslim bodies under siege with our bodies. If you don't know where to start, start here with this round-up of resources. Boycott companies that do business with, or back the Trump family. Spread the word about a nationwide general strike on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2017.

If you aren’t an organizer, learn from those who do organizing on a grassroots level, learn from prison abolitionists, learn from indigenous people who have had to defend their land, learn from the Black Lives Matter movement, learn from NO DAPL Standing Rock water protectors, learn from activists and organizations who are and have been fighting revolutions in Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, who are resisting U.S. backed regime change, U.S. intervention, drone strikes on their homes and their people. Get involved on the most local level you can and offer generously. Your degree of humbleness and willingness to do menial tasks and uncredited behind-the-scenes work should increase in proportion to your privilege and your safety and your history of involvement in organizing. That is to say if you are able-bodied, if you have money, if you have resources, if you are seen as white, hetero, cis, if you have had the opportunity to develop your politics through theory rather than through forced violations against your body and your people, then take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.

Accept that you will always have more to learn. Foundational texts are fundamentally insufficient, though they are a starting point. There have been PoC activists, organizers, socialists, and anarchists who have long been drawing connections between the U.S. occupation and wars at home, and the U.S. occupation and wars abroad--the violence the U.S. continues to commit against its black, Latinx, API, and indigenous communities must be understood within the same framework of violence this country continues to commit in supporting Israeli terrorism against a free Palestinian state, or in obstructing Puerto Rican self-determination, not to mention the too-many-to-list times the U.S. led and backed violent regime changes all around the world, including but not limited to Honduras, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Myanmar, and Laos.

Know that the violation, ownership, entitlement and destruction to the gender non-conforming and women’s bodies is deeply connected to the legacies of slavery and genocide and to the continued invasion, colonization, and occupation of lands abroad--this is the vile extent and pervasiveness of rape culture. Know that a true critique and denouncement of capitalism can only come from those who do not trivialize the resistance to gentrification, to anti-blackness, to Orientalism, to Islamophobia. Know that sex work, like all work under brutal capitalism and white supremacy, must be decolonized, not legalized.

Stay away from white people who are the loudest about their Marxism, their willingness to smash a window, who speak first at community meetings, who do not shut up when their time is up, who seek glory through their politics but offer little tenderness in their relationships; but do stay close to black and brown folks who know what it is to use their bodies to resist death and degradation, who love without domination. We do not deserve to only know love while colonized. We do not deserve to only build families while occupied.

This is about building a Movement rather than a movement, but know there have been people on the ground building movements without credit, without glory, people who have extended invitations to join their movements and the Movement for as long as one segment of humanity has oppressed another. As the radical Asian American activist Grace Lee Boggs, who lived an astounding one hundred years in the struggle, advised back in 1995:

A Movement begins to assume momentum when people begin exploring visionary answers to the questions being asked at the grassroots and engage in practical activities which can be replicated without huge bureaucracies. In the early stages of a Movement, the visionary answers being explored usually strike most people as too radical or too impractical. If they don’t, they are probably not profound enough to build a Movement.

This is our time for dazzling vision. At the same time, there are still homes to keep tidy, clothes that must be washed, children to look after, and clean water to be poured. If you can cook... get ready. There will be a lot of people who need to be fed.