In the next world over, I want to be able to feel my left elbow, I want to be able to taste the rind of a lemon and be in my bones so that my lover knows where to find me. On the days where the grief, loss, and subjugation keep me tied to this earthly realm I think about that feeling of embodiment and whether the price for entry for that golden tomorrow requires this type of longing.
In this year that has changed my DNA, I think back on my younger self who was full of passion, who saw every moment of uprising as a means to help move our people closer to freedom. I think about the instances where I would meet movement leaders and try to ask them how they survived and got kind politically correct answers of self-care and rest even as I knew the world never stopped for those of us living on the edge of time.
I know nostalgia to be a trap that tastes best when rooted somewhere intangible. Every time I used to see the mariame kaba quote “hope is a discipline” questions would follow, what is the discipline? Where do we find hope after immense grief? What can bring us back after loss? Most of my wonderings came from lived experiences of when the underside of movement wasn’t always kind or welcoming and I could remember how often people's worst traumas were jokes at organizing convenings, how organizations exercised membership that built their bones and saw frequently how money and proximity to power shattered trust. Could never reckon with how often I lost hope in seeing how those willing to lean into their fullness were by treated others, how I looked away and felt pity for those swept to the sidelines of movement work, and how the standard for conduct in movement is taught through the fear of being seen as imperfect or unrefined. It made me hungry to ask our elders how they really survived this thing, how they truly made it to the other side of this world and back with their bodies intact.
I don’t know what day it was or even if it was that specific of a decision but I know it happened. Some would call it a commitment but many of us call it something deeper. It was the day that I was at my first direct action surrounded by loved ones screaming out for a future I can’t always grasp but giving my last breath to knock down every system in the way of what we call freedom. That moment is what has kept me and I am realizing now that it is not enough. I’d like to lie to myself and say that I don’t know how this year ate us alive, but I do and I can name it, categorize it and externalize that heartache in a way that could keep me at arm's length from my own responsibility to this amorphous collective being we call movement work. It is not enough to be chasing or even placing your political trust in homes that exploit our longing. we/i/us all deserve a reason to stay in this work that has roots and often that requires our own reckoning in order to see those seedlings burrow down and nourish our political understanding. Since the day I became a community organizer, I took on all the good and bad of this archetype of non-profit careerism that before I knew it had taken all of my freedom dreams and sold me back a sweetened oppression.
There were and still are moments where I no longer consider myself an organizer or cultural worker. When I let the bitterness swallow me whole, where I watched the world burn, and enjoyed it when the conceits of resentment made hope a shallow language. But rage, bitterness, and sorrow are respites that helped me ignore the deep sadness that took over the rest of this unending year. The earnest reality was that this fight for freedom required my own wellness and I found quickly that I hadn’t been well for some time; the drought of trauma-bonded relationships, fragile online egos, and projections of superiority had numbed me. I thought this dedication to an exhaustive way of being in the movement was my only lifeline to purpose, but when I let go I realized that I couldn’t do this work being unkind or full of rage. I saw that I needed to leave before I lost my jawbone.
I don’t think any lover could break my heart the way movement has. There is no word to quantify what this fissure feels like but it’s visceral and everywhere. To see the earth under your feet collapse while you are still expected to help guide folks to their distinct dignity is labor I wouldn’t ask of my worst enemy. There was a point in 2020 when I didn’t want to be an abolitionist, an organizer, or hell anything connected to liberation because the heartache was too much. I saw my faith in the movement as a whole slipping. It took time, healing, and therapy to get back on track but it seems clear that somewhere in this mess I am finding my own tongue for an abolitionist practice that allows me a way back home.
Most of this essay or stream of thought comes from the reality that 2020 cracked the movement world open. Many organizations are in collapse, new ways of being are seeding themselves and deep relationship heartbreaks are still reverberating all around us. My heart wanted to write this to look at the systems that collapse in on us as we enter the antiblack neoliberal and imperialist non-profit structure that requires our obedience, dissonance, and fear of isolation to keep us in spaces and places that are no longer serving us or hell — that aren’t even safe. And how painful it is to let go of political homes we built, organizations we birthed, and watch infrastructures for radical change be made hollow by philanthropic capitalism’s demand for our bodies day in and day out. How these models for being have made us unkind to our comrades and taught us that isolation and the performance of solidarity are more important than our actual relationship with one another.
I’m writing this as a timestamp: in 2020, this movement broke me. It took the core of me and left me a bitter thing to look at. I’m not proud of it and some days I sit with questions that have no definitive answers, looking to movement elders who are exhausted themselves, who are simply trying to stay afloat, and who are also dealing with years of their own heartache that they have never been able to put down. I think more than anything that somebody has to tell the young people joining us who are asking questions, leading their first teach-ins, and organizing their first direct actions, that movement work comes with its own type of pain, its own way of speaking, being, and adjusting that doesn’t have to remain the same. This special type of pain buries itself into you until you look up and you are here, flayed out fresh and regurgitating talking points that you don’t always believe. I am writing this to myself and to anyone reading to be clear that this collective resistance will always be here and that you can always find your way back. That the journey is return. That our grief deserves to be held.
As we reach the last parts of this year all I can think about is loss, or more so the absence of and labor of building anew. I can only think about the demand this year has made on what we call right relationship and liberation. And how often this terminology is used without context, definition, or space for grounded practice. And more importantly how it’s used to garner moral superiority in a movement that we say centers the needs of black people yet we seem to be beholden to ways of being, speaking, and organizing in ways that rely on capitalism’s demand for more. That we are never to trust our bodily requirement to rest, slow down, and evolve.
I don’t have any fever dreams that 2021 will be better, but I feel grateful for the lessons, for the knowledge that only 2020 could give us, and for the heartbreak that grounds me moving forward. If anything I’m hoping/manifesting/dreaming for a movement where we are honest with those we bring into this work. That as we nurture and build liberatory spaces where we are sincere with ourselves and the people we bring in about the joy, that we sing about the freedom we get to taste fighting out loud. That we are principled and honest about the slippery slope of the non-profit industrial complex and the ways it is designed to contort our liberation into profit, and the ways we as people dedicated to this work have failed and gotten up again. That we can be frank about when this work left us for dead. We don’t have to be perfect or even molded to lead, but we do have to be clear and I hope whatever the movement looks like in 10 years is a reflection that we can/are building things that not only keep us all well and full, but fully present.
Seeding a new type of embodiment.