As Ahmed Sekou Ture said; bad organization is always better than no organization at all. So, of course, we agree that any protest of any kind that aims to bring attention to injustice of any kind is a good protest. Nothing being written here is meant to disparage and/or take anything away from any effort to accomplish this critical task. Still, its important we view everything at all times through a balanced viewpoint. In other words, any protest of any kind, whether we are talking about urban rebellions, or silent, individual protest statements, this power structure e.g. the capitalist bourgeoisie, will attack any and all protests we decide to engage in. When the urban rebellions happen, they say that's a completely unacceptable form of protest. When Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, etc., decided to mind their business and stage a simple, silent protest, they said that was disrespectful and therefore unacceptable. That reality should tell you two things. First, no matter what you do or don't do, they are going to have a problem with you because that's really the issue. They have a problem with you, not just what you are doing. Second, because again, no matter what we do, they denounce it and we receive unrelenting repression. So, although we honor all who protest, we should provide special attention and respect to those among us who engage in protests that call out the fundamental contradictions, without any level of qualification and justification.
The first question people may have when reading this is since this is largely viewed as a question around women hairstyles, what does a dude have to say about it? Especially a bald headed dude? The answer is this question of cultural appropriation is obviously based in the larger question e.g. what is culture? If we permit ourselves to operate with only an arbitrary understanding of what culture is then its no wonder that confusion is so dominant around this issue. So, we start by attempting to address that question.
Oddly, my initial recollection of a woman freedom fighter named "Tania" came upon me in my youth as a 10 year old boy forced to endure the national so-called "busing" program to racially integrate schools throughout the U.S. In 1974, I was bused to A.P. Giannini "Junior" High school in San Francisco, California, U.S., for the seventh grade. One day, on the bus headed to my neighborhood clear across town, we were held up for about two hours. We were prohibited by police from exiting the bus. We were forced to just sit there for the entire time. All that we were told was that the then Crocker Bank on the next block was being robbed. There was a large police barrier and police, literally, everywhere. Later, after I had arrived where I lived and I able to watch local television news with my parents, I learned that the bank robbery was carried out by armed people who the news were calling the Sybionese Liberation Army (SLA). Central to that organization with the strange sounding name was a woman identified as "Tania." This person was actually Patricia "Patty" Hearst, a member of the Hearst family e.g. the Hearst Castle, owners of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper, etc. Even at 10 years old, I knew that the Hearst family was one of the bourgeoisie elite families in the Bay Area. There is a famous picture of Hearst, armed with an AK-47, and wearing a tam. This was a picture taken during that robbery of that Crocker Bank in 1974 in San Francisco.
Today is December 4th. Its the 50 year commemoration of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., police carrying out a pre-dawn planned raid to murder leaders of the Illinois Black Panther Party simply because of the Panther's objective of bringing justice to African people. On that day, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed and this illegal and immoral assassination of respected African leaders came to serve as one of the most clear and ill refutable pieces of evidence supporting claims by the African community in general, and the Panther's in particular, of systemic police terrorism against our people.
About twenty years ago, I attended a local book event. The author was an African who had written his personal experiences with police terrorism throughout his life. As I have customarily done throughout my life, I supported the Brother, bought his book, and offered encouragement until a point in the program came where the Brother said he wanted to consider himself a revolutionary. In response to that statement, someone in the audience stated that if the author wanted to call himself a revolutionary, he has a right to call himself that. At this point I expressed my disagreement, indicating that being a revolutionary comes with principles and requirements. One of those basic requirements is if you are going to claim a desire for revolution, you have be working within a revolutionary organization. In our view, to claim to be a revolutionary without organization is like claiming to be a driver while never having operated a vehicle/vessel, etc. As to be expected, several people at the event could not understand my logic.
On Thursday I saw the movie "Queen & Slim." Yesterday, while visiting the African community's vendor event designed to stimulate money being spent at African businesses, I saw a table dedicated to the so-called "American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS) movement. I realized that seeing the two Africans sitting at that table, representing ADOS, is the first time I've seen this so-called movement officially represented beyond social media.
I'm talking about those people who dedicate their lives to fighting against the corruption and oppression of this system everyday that they breath? Specifically those people who choose the courageous path of challenging this system in a revolutionary and uncompromising fashion? This is a critically important question that we should honestly be willing to stop and think about immediately. Who are the people that should be appreciated and what exactly do they do? I choose those two questions because I'm forever haunted by one of the very last interviews Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) gave to a CPAN reporter shortly before Kwame made is physical transition. In that interview, the interviewer - a European man who it appeared took the assignment with little to no understanding about who his interview subject was - kept asking Kwame how he paid his medical bills and how he was able to travel to Cuba and Libya (before U.S. imperialism destroyed the latter) with no income? Kwame politely and repeatedly responded that the African masses paid for what he needed. When the reporter pressed on why people who may or mostly didn't know Kwame would contribute to his care, Kwame said several times that the people did this because they know Kwame "struggled" for them. It was apparent to me that this reporter, and probably about 95% of the general population for that matter, had and have absolutely no idea what this "struggle" looks like. More importantly, this 95% sees this "struggle" as having no direct impact on their day to day life. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Whether we are talking about Kwame or anyone who dedicates themselves to this struggle, we are talking about a lifetime of consistent and unrelenting sacrifice. We are talking about constant emotional fatigue and pain. We are talking about a life of isolation. None of these things are mentioned to generate sympathy. Anyone who takes that personal pledge to fight for the people uncompromisingly knows that these things are going to happen. We know this because we know that by deciding to directly challenge the values and practices of this capitalist power structure we are opening ourselves up to a lifetime of abuse by this system. And this abuse manifests itself in physical ways, but also in psychological and spiritual attacks.
The last two sentences answer the question about who these people are. We are talking specifically about those who choose to dedicate themselves to engaging in organized struggle to build capacity to fight nonstop against this oppressive system. We single out those who 100% oppose the system e.g. are not working to reform it, but destroy it and build something better, because these folks, by their very dedication and focus, are exactly the folks that those 95% have been taught to ignore at best and outright disrespect and harass at worse. These conditions clearly don't apply nearly as much to those who choose to battle inside of the system for change. Those who work on political campaigns to get people elected and pursue other policy results. This segment of people also have a heavy load, but they benefit from their views on reforming the prison system, police departments, etc., because their work is not necessarily always popular, but it is basically socially acceptable, at least to a certain point. In other words, only the most reactionary elements within society are opposed in 2019/2020 to adequate healthcare for all and police not indiscriminately killing unarmed people. The people who work within these realms, unless they are involved in the most militant elements of reform work like direct action, needn't usually worry about their family and friends ostracizing them for their beliefs and work, even if there is disagreement. For example, someone who works in a political campaign to elect someone, even if that candidate has some level of social reform in their platform, that organizer in that campaign will probably receive some level of prestige from their respective position to this candidate, who is probably relatively well known.
On the other hand, anti-capitalist organizers/activists are pretty much public enemy number one. The reasons for this are that as a society, everyone here is programmed 24/7 to never question that capitalism, the current dominant economic system in the world, is the way life, has been since day one of human existence, and it will be the dominant system thousands of years from now. Besides the fact that capitalism is actually only a few hundred years old, 95% believe its capitalism or human extinction. As a result of this low level of consciousness, anyone with the courage to declare that you are not only against capitalism, but desire a different system and - gasp - believe we can actually organize to create something better, are ostracized within this society on a systemic basis. And, this isolation happens even if the extent of your work is political education or just simply raising questions against capitalism and for something else like socialism, anarchism, etc. By isolation, what I mean is since people believe capitalism to be immortal, these folks remote control, automatically view you as insane for believing anything else is possible. And, often its the closest people to you who treat you this way and unfortunately, this is the best results of what happens. At worse, based on the degree of success you have with your work, you can be viewed as a threat which means you can be targeted by agents of the state that are in place to squash dissent against the system. Often, this can happen be covertly in ways most people don't recognize. Still, all of this is very well known to these activists and very few of these brave souls would move one inch off their principles of justice in order to stop any of the above abuses from happening. These things are byproducts of opposing capitalism and we all know this.
So, what is the issue then? In my humble experience, the most crushing and draining elements of this work are the internal challenges. As stated, we are prepared for the external attacks and in many ways, the external attacks validate the effectiveness of our work so we welcome and expect that. The internal represents the reality that in attempting to organize the masses of people it becomes apparent early on that by embracing the people you will be forced to also confront all of the dysfunctional elements that this backward society instills in our people. Examples are that persons involved in independent anti-capitalist work are consistently faced with challenges of personal abuse by participants against other participants. Some of these activists make the error of ignoring these contradictions which causes them not to go away, but fester and blow up. For those who decide to attempt principled approaches that confront these challenges you are faced with constant accusations that you are engaging in personally motivated attacks against the abusers. Those who do this work seriously know this is true because you have and are experiencing it. I've had to endure it multiple times along with you. And, in this bourgeoisie liberalism dominated society, when allegations that you are attacking people, or other accusations against your efforts to confront dysfunction are made, most people are not mature and/or principled enough to sift through the dysfunction. In other words, most of the time, most people believe accusations against you. Most people - for any number of reasons - view your efforts to confront the issue as the damage as opposed to the damage itself. Very, very, few people will ever speak out in support of your leadership and you suffer immeasurable assaults against your personal reputation. If there is another way to endure this trauma besides just living through it, I wish someone would help us find it.
Another common challenge is just how people are socialized in this individualistic and entitlement based capitalist society. If you are a revolutionary organizer you will spend your entire life doing work to help people improve their conditions and I'm not just talking about your primary political education and/or community work. I'm also talking about the countless number of single parents and other people needing assistance that you help move e.g. battered non-men needing that support, etc. The countless people you help by mentoring them, organizing them to do justice work, even helping them get jobs and/or get off the streets. You will do this type of work so many times that after a while it will become automatic for you because you live to help people. That's what revolutionaries do. What you receive most often for your contributions is people who many times don't even acknowledge you the next time you encounter them. Or, people who take your contributions to their lives for granted e.g. feeling entitled to your work. I remarked to someone I was helping in a mentor and financial way recently that I felt that whenever I saw them that I owed them money the way they approached me with aggressive demands for assistance.
Although the examples in the last paragraph do take their toll on you, I wish to make it clear that from this perspective, its still not the dysfunction that causes this to toll to be taken. Just like the lack of credit you will be given for the work, the dysfunction you have to encounter is also a byproduct of this work and we definitely understand that. So, what's the major rub then?
The primary reason I'm raising this issue is based in the title of this piece. I don't pretend to speak for revolutionary activists/organizers the world over, but from my humble vantage point, the only thing that makes enduring all of the above almost more difficult than many people can bare is due to the level of neglect and disrespect revolutionary activists/organizers experience in this society. What I'm talking about is the paradox where someone in the U.S. can even fix their lips to ask someone as immortal as Kwame Ture what he did for the people while these same people turn around every Veterans Day, etc., and without prompting, offer participants in the U.S. military all the respect and more for "their service." Meanwhile, I watched a video today of a panel from 1973 that included Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, and others, including an assortment of local and even nationally elected officials at the time. I viewed with contempt how these politicians, who only occupied their positions because of the back breaking work Kwame and Ms. Hamer did for the vote talk over the two of them and completely dismiss their perspectives for how we achieve power as a people.
This happens because of the lack of political education in this society. As a result, most people have no actual idea how they have the right to vote. They just accept the nonsense that the military fought for them to have it while they disrespect the actual people who won that "right" for them. We are actually programmed to believe that stars and stripes wearing terrorists who kill people globally are doing so to protect us when in truth,, they exist and function to advance imperialism's global agenda, nothing else. Still, its difficult for me to accept that people will support someone in the imperialist military without critical thought, while acting with contempt towards someone who is pepper-sprayed, arrested, beaten, harassed, etc., for fighting for water rights in North Dakota, or protecting someone's right to have a house, or marching for justice for humanity. The answer of what these activists/organizers do for everyone should be obvious. Water is a sacred right. The ability for our children to walk the streets without fear of being incarcerated and/or murdered for no legitimate reason is a right. The right to food, clothing, and shelter is a human right and the more we have a worldwide culture where those things are upheld, the safer everyone is.
So, if you don't clearly understand what the ask is from this piece, the ask is simply that you begin to take a moment to think about those who fight without resources, with regular contempt hurled at them, with internal challenges that take up as much of their time and energy as direct work against the system. That you take a moment to ensure you are thinking about those people. That you tell them how much you appreciate their service and that you stop acting like the work they do has nothing to do with you. You see them doing everything they can to help others. Stop acting like that's no big deal because if that was true, you would be doing it too. And, trust me, there are far too few who are doing it. So, take a major leap and offer some of these people a breakfast muffin sometimes. Not because they need it but because they spend all their money on this work so by doing a simple act like that you demonstrate that you recognize their contributions. Highlight these people and make sure when haters attack their work that you speak up for them. When people talk about police as corrupt, there is always no shortage of people who immediately ensure that everyone knows "all police aren't bad." Besides the fact that statement is absurd, where are the people who defend revolutionary activists/organizers? Where are the voices who say "those people are our best and most loyal protectors!" Try doing that because it really helps create a more positive atmosphere for us to be able to more effectively do our work.
My argument is that burnout in revolutionary activists/organizers can happen for many number of reasons, but if the rest of you would just lift the load just a little bit, through the ways indicated in the last paragraph, I do know that would help so many people and add strength to them so that they can continue on. And, God knows we definitely need them to continue on.
I just experienced it less than an hour ago and I go through this with people all year round, every year. Its always the same exchange. Someone wishes me a "Happy Thanksgiving" or "Merry Christmas" or "have a good fourth!" To all of them, I respond as politely as I possibly can that I don't celebrate these so-called holidays. So as to ensure I'm upholding people's humanity, I always immediately make it a point then to wish them well.
Each and every time this exchange takes place the person I'm talking to always responds to my response with some version of "I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, the 4th, etc. either. I just use the time to get together with loved ones, etc." I always smile at them and usually say no more, but I'm always thinking "if you call it Thanksgiving, then you are celebrating Thanksgiving." And, I know they call it Thanksgiving because they just wished me one. In fact, literally everything people do on that Thursday is related to the methodology that defines the so-called Thanksgiving holiday. People come together and eat turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, etc. There are changes to the so-called traditional menu these days, but the basic premise remains the same. People watch football on television and when the food is served, at least in African households, the prayer that's delivered always has some message of "thanks for what we have." All of that, whether we recognize it or not, is the formula for celebrating Thanksgiving and the reason why the capitalist system promotes the holiday in the first place. Well, actually, there are two major reasons. One reason is economic. To stimulate the travel, food, hotel, rent a car, etc. industries, but the other reason is to reaffirm the subtle message that this land doesn't actually belong to the Indigenous people it was stolen from. "This land is your land...This land is my land." And, this false narrative that on Thursday, somewhere buried underneath the football, eating, drinking, etc., is the idea that we have all of those comforts because this is such a great country to provide us with all of those things. As long as any portion of us believes that message than we miss completely the reality that the wealth of this country, which all of us benefit from, was stolen from our own peoples and continues to be stolen from our own peoples and from all of humanity. Also, once we accept this version of history, on either a conscious or subconscious level, we then have the obligation to defend this immorality. Its this thinking that explains this fear so many people have in this country that somebody somewhere is a threat to take something from you e.g. Africans, Indigenous people, immigrants, Trans people, Islam, women, etc.
The above are all of the reasons why I appreciate the offers I get to partake every year, but why I politely prefer to spend time apart from that hypocrisy. I'd much rather be at the Hot Springs reading an inspirational book and for that, I'd love to have people accompanying me because I'm never anti-social. Just anti injustice and anything that attempts to hide and/or dismiss injustice and that's exactly what "Thanksgiving" and all their imperialist holidays do.
None of this is a criticism against people for getting together for some fun. People in the U.S. work more cumulative hours than any people in the so-called industrialized world, so I'm going to be the last person to shame anyone for wanting some down time of food and fun, etc. My issue is you can't do all of the things most of us are doing and pretend you aren't celebrating exactly what the system wants you to celebrate. The damage of this is the backward values it instills in each of us and especially in the children.
There are many people who are making honest, sincere, and very creative efforts to combat the imperialist narrative and these folks are to be commended for their efforts. A very good friend in Portland, Oregon, U.S., named Pete and his partner Jessica are some of those creative people. They always open up their house to people on these days and offer food and refuge. They make it clear its not about "Thanksgiving" and the key is they intentionally don't call their gathering that. Plus, although I have never had the privilege of attending their get together, I'm pretty sure from what I know of them that they don't do the typical "Thanksgiving" activities previously mentioned. I'm sure there are vibrant and fruitful discussions during their gathering and I know many other people are doing similar invites. I'm hopeful this movement grows because capitalism seeks to isolate people and make us believe everything that's not as we like it to be is 100% because of flaws within us. These efforts to challenge imperialism's stamp of propaganda do a lot to make people feel genuinely included, not for what they have, but for who they are. We are revolutionary Pan-Africanists which means we are culturally and politically collective so of course, we see enormous value in this approach and we encourage everyone to continue in this trend. Just remember not to call it "Thanksgiving" and be even more pronounced about letting people know that your gathering is on a completely different vibe. Have the youth say grace if you do that and that grace should be giving thanks for all those who have struggled to bring justice to our world and continued commitment to continue to fight. Wherever I end up for dinner on Thursday, I'll be saying grace for three years since comrade Fidel Castro physically left us. I'll be asking for strength in carrying on his exemplary example of humanity for the rest of my days. Nothing could be farther from the backward "Thanksgiving" sellout narrative. Propaganda is important. That's why as I left work Friday I shouted "death to the pilgrims!"
By "alone" I don't just mean having no other people in your physical spaces. There are many people who are physically around many people who are alone spiritually and mentally. By "holidays" I mean the imperialist days like thankstaking and mis-Christ (Thanksgiving and Christmas) that promote capitalism, individualism, and the never ending social pressure to be someone you are not and to spend money you can't really afford to spend.
I'm a person who hasn't "celebrated" these imperialist holidays for decades. To be truly honest, with practically my entire family having made their physical transitions (mother, father, sister, brother), I no longer have much social pressure to participate. Fortunately for me, and as a result of the work I placed into it, even when my family was alive, I was able to convince them of the hypocrisy to the point where when I was in my twenties, they admitted to me how relieved they were that a big production for my then very young daughter was not needed and/or necessary. Nowadays, with my remaining biological family consisting of my daughter and remaining sister - each of who have been converted to not celebrating imperialist holidays (my daughter was not raised that way. We told her from the beginning that there was no Santa Claus and that the Western Hemisphere was land stolen from the Indigenous peoples), we all only discuss how to avoid the contradictions each year. Yet, since neither of them lives in California, I certainly find myself subjected to the social pressure of spending so much of my time alone this time of year. Please recognize and understand that my decision each year to avoid a lot of social interaction isn't because I don't get offers to have it. Most revolutionaries within this reactionary society learn early on how to be well grounded and genuine people. My experience is that others usually respect and want you around them. Still, I recognize that for a myriad of reasons, for many, this isn't a possibility. The challenge for me is I've decided years ago that I can be around people at other times of year, choosing to avoid the contradiction of being forced to endure customs and beliefs this time of year that literally turn my stomach. The challenge of course is the constant propaganda that pounds you 24/7 this time of year that you have to be a part of something (where lots of money is being spent of course). On some limited levels, I've come to accept and even embrace the loneliness. And, I've done much more with it that I'm hopeful will help those of you who wish to maintain your dignity and values while negotiating the isolation and accompanying loneliness.
As a result of all this struggle, I've developed what I believe to be healthy mechanisms to confront and combat the reoccurring feeling that I'm all alone in this world during this time of year. One thing I do annually in November is identify books that will inspire me. What inspires me is remembering that others have endured so much pain and suffering so that I could have a chance to exist and hopefully make a further contribution to making the world better. This realization has proven invaluable to me because its helped me contextualize whatever feelings of alienation I'm experiencing. This year (last Saturday), I picked up the autobiography of Albert Woodfox. He spent decades in one of the very worse prisons within the U.S. - the institution named Angola in Louisiana. Named for the fact it was a former slave plantation who's forced kidnapped laborers were from the West African country of Angola, this institution represents all of the horrors of incarceration and Woodfox's experience epitomizes those contradictions. The fact he was able to endure decades of solitary confinement in a prison who's main population housing was worse than most other institution's solitary confinement, Woodfox was able to maintain his balance by reaching deep down within himself, building on the revolutionary principles of humanism he learned within the Black Panther Party. His story stimulates me to keep moving forward. And, finding stories like his each year has helped me learn how to actually look forward to reading more and more stories like his, especially this time of year. This reaffirms that I'm not alone in how I move through the world which is a major blow to the constant feeling that we are insane for wanting something different. Something better.
Another practice that really helps me is planning to take time off work in order to do things that I want to do during this time. Obviously, this will vary from person to person, and many of us have limited resources in what we can do, but for me these things include everything from camping at Hot Springs to driving to Yosemite to going to the all you can eat buffet in Reno, Nevada, U.S. Typically, I have no one else to do these things with and I think the mistake most people make is in waiting until there is someone you can do things with. I've grown quite comfortable going on my own. Especially after I've permitted myself to relax with the knowledge that one day I may have someone to do these things with, but until then, there is absolutely no reason why I need to wait. At first, it can be awkward a little to sit in Hot Springs, without clothing on, alone, but despite the fact I practically never have conversations with anyone while I'm there, I've learned to take my good book(s) I'm reading and enjoy hours there in my own world. If money is an issue, there are many things still that you can do. Dancing in places with no cover charges, even if you dance alone is joyful. Listening to music, even without dancing. I go into places all the time that have music centers and spending no more than $5 I can fill the establishment with the music that inspires me and makes me feel great.
A third thing I do quite a bit of is writing during this time of year. Writing for me is therapy of the highest order. This is the reason I'm constantly encouraging people to disregard whatever obstacles that are keeping you from writing and just write. And you can write anything and it can help you feel better. For me, the power of either creating the world I want (fiction), or analyzing and offering alternatives to the real world (non-fiction), its all reaffirming and extremely powerful. I'll even go as far as to say its the most reaffirming thing I've discovered in my life, even when people disagree with what I'm writing, it still has an impact. Even if no one else besides you sees it e.g. journal writing, its still a very powerful tool.
Finally, I take this time of year to reaffirm healthy practices e.g. what I'm eating and the necessity to prioritize my daily physical workouts to ensure my goals are being achieved in each area. What I find all of these things do for me, whether I'm sitting alone in a coffee shop (as I am as I write this), singing karaoke by myself, or making the drive to the Hot Springs an adventure, I'm reaffirming my value to myself. That act alone does so much to combat the alienation. In fact, I never do any of the things I've identified here and walk away after sorry I indulged. Actually, I feel empowered with my approach.
None of this is to suggest that you should avoid get togethers. Social interaction is essential in an alienating society. As long as you aren't forced to be in toxic environments. The point here is if you disagree with the hypocrisy of imperialist holidays, dig out some space to honor that by taking care of yourself. You may have completely different ways of doing that then the ones I've identified that work for me and that's wonderful. Just make sure whatever you are doing isn't something that reinforces the concept that you are alone because something is wrong with you e.g. drinking alcohol alone, etc. Whatever you choose to do, it should reaffirm your value as you are, faults and inconsistencies along with everything else. If you approach your process like that, you will probably find that you begin utilizing this time to figure out ways to work through those faults and I assure you that nothing will start making you feel better than engaging those types of things.
Remember, there is an old African proverb that "even a dead fish can go with the current." None of this is an attack against holiday get togethers, even imperialist inspired ones. For most people, these events are their way of escaping the daily horrors of capitalism and no one understands that better than those of us who are engaged in a fight to destroy capitalism. The purpose of this piece is to reinforce with those who it applies that you may be like me in the sense that the accompanying values that come with efforts to escape capitalism are equally as painful for you than the imperialist gatherings themselves. For those of you who that perspective applies to, figure out how to protect yourself. Its important because you are important. Too many wonderful people suffer from depression and/or decide to end their physical existence this time of year for me to act as if this isn't a real issue.