On Activism and Organizing: There is a Distinction

What’s the difference between an organizer, an activist, and someone who is just plain fighting for their life, on a personal level? Often, there is no discernible distinction, as these roles often blend together in ways that could never be separated. But for some people, there is no such complexity. I point this out because, in recent years, there has been a verbal shift in social justice spaces towards referring to everyone involved as an organizer. As a person who believes that we too often negate the meanings of words by transforming them into umbrellaed concepts, I have to say my piece about the matter.

Not everyone who is involved in movement work is an organizer, and that’s okay. And to be real, if you find that you’re spending more time condemning the imperfect ideas and practices of others than you’re spending lifting folx up, you are not healing or building anything — and that’s what it means to organize. But at some point, the ideas behind words like “activism” and “organizing” became horribly skewed, and while these are just my opinions, I think that’s bullshit.

I’m not about to bust out a dictionary, but let’s discuss what these words mean in practice.

Activism is about showing up for justice, and in the name of justice. Folx have attached a lot of nasty connotations to this word, but there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with being a person who is committed to showing up and working hard, in a consistent manner. There is nothing wrong with throwing down, in the interest of justice, with zero interest in being a planner or an architect of such moments. People should be described in whatever terms they prefer, because people have the right to define who they are, but there is nothing wrong with being an “activist” or a “protester” for that matter.

Nothing. Period.

The #NoDAPL water protecters are water protectors because that is the name they have chosen for themselves, and their work, but if they called themselves protesters or activists, would their work be less valid? Or is the act of throwing down what matters?

Organizing is a more complicated matter than simply throwing down or flexing a skill, and it should be named as such. One of my own mentors once asked me, “But aren’t we all organizers?”

My answer, as ever, is a resounding no.

Organizing sometimes means educating others, even though you have no obligation to do so. It means taking other people’s stances and feelings into account, even when they don’t resonate with your own, and realizing that no one shows up perfect to the revolution — including the past, present and future you. It’s about finding the line between having difficult conversations, to help people and communities move forward, and expecting people to simply show up where you’re at, because you’re tired of waiting for them to do so.

It’s okay to be tired and unwilling to indulge or even challenge people. But simply rejecting people’s behavior is not, in of itself, organizing, because organizing is a constructive act.

Being an organizer usually means realizing that this work pays you back in the form of community, purpose and the hope of something better, and can often detract from everything else. It’s work that ought to be materially compensated, but most of the time, it is a calling, not a career. It ought to be praised and credited, but usually isn’t. That’s just the way of things, and not everyone is going to find that tolerable.

Being an organizer is about understanding that, whenever possible, lateral critiques should be aimed at helping everyone — including you — to do better, rather than honing the membership of your clubhouse.

It’s about instigating change and creating momentum.

Not everyone will assume such a role and that’s fine. Some people would never want to, and I respect that. I hope such people choose to do something in the name of justice, but that work can take many, many shapes.

To be clear, no one is obligated to swing the door open to those who endanger others. I am not above boxing out individuals who can’t stop harming folx, because to me, declaring that someone isn’t disposable means that I’m not about to toss them into the lake, or into a cage. It DOES NOT mean that they are welcome in my living room. We have a natural right to protect ourselves, and to repel the antagonism of white supremacy, but ideas don’t spread without engagement. Part of real-world organizing is finding the line between productive dialogue and harms we simply cannot engage with. That’s not easy, but it is organizing.

I see no ethical or merit-based hierarchy between involuntary struggle, activism, and organizing, but if your work is mostly rooted in dragging folx and tearing people down, please don’t call yourself an organizer. Because what you’re doing is something else entirely. Whether it’s about branding or simply reveling in a sense of superiority, such “work” is not an effort to heal or build, and it sure as hell isn’t transformative.

Seriously, let’s ask ourselves: Are we trying to make change? And how do we really think that happens?

Bottom line: Ideological posturing won’t change the world, and no one should pretend otherwise.

Why the “Abortion is Great” Rhetoric Hits Me Wrong

(Image: Kara Rodriguez)

I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a panel hosted by The Chicago Abortion Fund, which largely centered the #BeBoldEndHyde campaign. It was an honor to be in a space that centered marginalized voices — Black and Brown people, sex workers and others traditionally left out of conversations about what reproductive justice looks like. But as we make this kind of progress, with groups like Lifted Voices joining forces with groups like the Chicago Abortion Fund to not only demand an end to Hyde, but to broaden our notions of what reproductive justice encompasses, I have an ask for some of my allies.

Being that I have a lot of reproductive rights activists on my Facebook friends list, I’ve been seeing a lot of people (mostly white allies and accomplices) promote messaging that either amounts to, or is as straightforwardly simple as, “Abortion is great!”

I get it.

Abortion has traditionally been portrayed as a nightmarish, potentially deadly procedure, that’s consequences match its alleged moral depravity, when in reality, it is a reliably safe medical procedure, that allows many people with uteruses to maintain control of their lives — rather than forcing them to endure the violence of forced birth. Resisting what author Katha Pollitt has framed as the “awfulization” of abortion, is necessary work, as negative characterizations — and pointless moralization — certainly fuel an opposition bent on controlling our destinies by holding our reproductive systems hostage.

But can we own something else?

Not everyone gets an abortion because they want one. Some people get abortions, when they would otherwise consider carrying a child to term, because this world, such as it is, simply doesn’t welcome their children. Amid poverty, state violence, and environmental destruction, what does it really mean to have a choice?

I am pro-choice, but to me, that means so much more than supporting abortion access. Of course I know once-pregnant individuals, whose procedures were not traumatic, who feel nothing but positive about their decision, but I have also known people whose hearts broke when they were forced to abort, and I say “forced” because true consent involves an availability of options. My friends who mourned choosing to abort were up against racism, ageism, toxic environments and a culture that sustained their abuse. They faced inadequate healthcare, criminalization, and a host of other harms that compromised their agency.

For them, abortion was harm reduction. It was part of the larger tragedy of their oppressions. And it was not awesome.

It was simply better than the alternative.

So can we acknowledge that no life changing decision is universally great? And that choice itself is a complex idea?

As an Indigenous woman, I need my allies’ understanding of reproductive justice to include an awareness that 40% of our people, with the capacity to bear children, were forcibly sterilized by the United States Government in the 1970s. I need those who would fight alongside me to understand that while some people were securing their right to escape the violence of forced birth, my people were being deprived of any choice about our reproductive destinies, en masse.

We have acculturated ourselves to associate the word “choice” with our ability to make one very specific decision, but historically, some people have been denied a great many options. We need to remember and honor all of those histories when we use the word “choice.” Because we cannot speak to reproductive justice without discussing poverty, state violence and environmental racism. These issues don’t simply intersect. They are deeply entangled. And while the idea that one person’s act of self-determination might be the stuff of another’s oppression might be difficult to reconcile, it’s real.

I support abortion on demand and without apology. I always will. But I am fighting for a world where no one feels they have to abort a pregnancy, simply because the world is no country for their child. I want us to be able to declare that, all things being equal, and all resources being equitable, a person carrying a child should have the right to decide that they simply don’t want to — and for all of us to lock arms in the name of that whole equity piece, while respecting one another’s lived experiences.

We’re not there yet, but if we’re going to do this work at the intersections of our oppressions, we need to figure it out.

On Movements, Memories and Finding Family

Friends of Babur Balos, once an active organizer in Occupy Chicago, staged a light action in August to show solidarity with their ailing friend. (Photo: Tom Callahan)

Friday will mark the 5th anniversary of the day Occupy found its way to Chicago. If you were around in those days, as I was, you probably have a lot of mixed feelings about that time. It was a moment of great potential and activation, and while not all moments of potential yield any immediate accomplishment, they do matter. Sometimes, they begin a process of realization, and sometimes, they show us what we’re made of, so that we can stand ready the next time around. As people who do movement work, such moments can also help us find the family we desperately need in this world, and that’s what this piece is really about.

I knew the day I met Babur Balos, at the corner of Jackson and LaSalle, that we would probably be friends for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t wrong. But on the eve of this year’s anniversary, as a rare disease threatens to cut Babur’s life short, I am reminded of what Occupy meant to me in very human terms.

I approached Occupy with a great deal of skepticism, but I trusted Babur almost immediately. I didn’t know where the movement was going, in those early days, but I knew that if things ever got dicey, in a meeting or in the streets, this was someone I wanted by my side. I knew that, in rough moments, he would be fair, loyal and brave.

And he was.

When shit went down, on May 20, 2012, and other days when the police decided to show their character, Babur and I never had to ask if the other was leaving. We knew that neither of us was leaving without the other. We were exactly where we were supposed to be, and in the right company. The universe rarely grants such moments, but when it does, you hold onto them. And you hold onto the people who make those moments what they are.


To speak to my own work, in the years since, I can say with certainty that there would be no Chicago Light Brigade without Babur Balos. Our friendship, forged in Occupy, helped propel our local Light Brigade into existence, and without the Chicago Light Brigade, I can’t say that anything else I’ve organized would be what it is, because everything we are, everything we do, and everything we are to one another is woven through the fabric of our relationships. Our movements, friendships, and freedom dreams flow forward, and at times inward, yielding the stories that become our histories.

For many of us who do movement work in Chicago, Babur is part of our shared history of struggle. We’ve ambushed politicians and painted grade school hallways together. We’ve watched moments of protest rise and fall and rise again.

I’ve watched as Babur provided support and comfort to families who’ve lost their loved ones to police violence, and marveled at how he could find the time and strength to do so, while struggling with a grave illness and caring for his own family.

I did begin to see less of Babur when his girls came along. I’ve missed him at times, but the ways he engaged in the work only shifted, really. He never actually stepped back. Even now, as his liver continues to shut down, he still turns up at events to show love and solidarity. I don’t think he’s wired to live any other way, and I love him for that.

I’m grateful for all that Babur is and for all that he’s brought to our city, and in trying times, I know it’s important to stay grateful, and hopeful. But my hopes have always been demanding, and I want Babur to live. I want him to be here as his daughters become proud young Black women. I want to have his back in the streets again, and know that he has mine. I want to raise a glass with him at this time next year, to all the friends we made in 2011, and all the good they’ve done since.


I want my friend to live, and I believe he will. Because he has a fierce heart and beautifully stubborn spirit, but I also want his family to know comfort and peace as he awaits a liver transplant — and that last part is something we can do something about.

So please join me in marking the anniversary of this movement moment by making a gift to Babur’s beautiful family in their time of need. Since this crowd fund page was created, Babur’s health has continued to deteriorate, and we now know the fund’s goal is much too modest, so let’s make sure we exceed it.

I know that some of my dearest friends aren’t sure whether to remember Occupy with pride or embarrassment — as there were moments worthy of both — but we can certainly remember it with love. Because for all our faults and missteps, I don’t feel trite saying that we found love out there. And for a lot of us, that love is still very real. We are family, both close and extended. We are still dreamers, and we’re still here, so let’s make sure that on our sixth anniversary, we can celebrate the fact that Babur survived this illness, and that his community carried him through it.

For our part, founding members of the Chicago Light Brigade will match the next two $100.00 donations made to Babur’s crowd fund.

We love you, Babur. Happy anniversary.

To help Babur and his family: http://bit.ly/ShowUp4Babur

(UPDATE: Shortly before midnight on September 23, the five year anniversary of Occupy Chicago, Babur’s crowd fund goal was surpassed. The goal was always modest, so we hope that people will keep giving, but we consider this a huge moral victory and celebration of both Babur and the community that loves him. Many thanks to all who’ve shown support.)

(Photo: Tom Callahan)


Borrada por la Victoria Falsa : Obama no ha detenido DAPL


Solidarioxs de Chicago demuestran su apoyo a lxs Protectorxs del agua en Standing Rock. (Foto: Kelly Hayes)

By reader request, Transformative Spaces is providing a Spanish translation of the piece, “Erased By False Victory: Obama Hasn’t Stopped DAPL.” Many thanks to the TS readers who volunteered to translate this piece. 

Todas las luchas nativas en los Estados Unidos son una lucha contra el desapareser ( despojo, eliminación)

El envenenamiento de nuestra tierras, el robo de nuestros hijos, la violencia de Estado cometido contra nosotras – nos vemos obligados a no sólo vivir  en oposición a estos males  sino también a vivir en oposición al hecho de que a menudo se nos borra de la vista del público y discurso público, fuera del territorio indígena.

La verdad de nuestra historia y nuestra lucha no coincide con el mito del excepcionalismo estadounidense , y por lo tanto , con frecuencia se nos desencaja de la narrativa.

La lucha en Standing Rock, Dakota del Norte, ha sido una excepción con protectores del agua luchando con uñas y dientes para darle visibilidad a su lucha desde el inicio del campamento, de la oración de la piedra sagrada que comenzó el 1 de abril.

Durante meses, los medios principales de comunicación han ignorado lo que ha sido la mayor convergencia de los pueblos nativos en más de un siglo. Pero con el crecimiento de la amplificación de los medios sociales y la cobertura de noticias independiente, los medios corporativos habían comenzado finalmente a tomar nota. Se prestó atención nacional; protestas de solidaridad se dieron a conocer en ciudades de todo el país. La Guardia Nacional se activó en Dakota del Norte.

El viejo dicho, “El mundo está mirando” parecía estar al borde de la precisión de Standing Rock.

Y entonces llegó el fallo de hoy, con una conclusión de un juez federal contra la nación Sioux de Standing Rock, y declarando que la construcción de la tubería podría continuar legalmente. Fue la decisión que esperaba, pero aún asi punzaba.

Sentí  tristeza, ira y decepción que ha golpeado a muchos de nosotros a medida que recibimos la noticia. Pero entonces sucedió algo: Los encabezados como “La construcción del oleducto por órdenes del gabinete gubernamental de Obama se detiene”  y que  “La Administración de Obama interviene para bloquear el acceso del oleoducto Dakota” comenzaron a llenar mi suministro de noticias y cuentas sociales con comentarios adjuntos como “Gracias a Dios por Obama”

Es evidente que se ha producido un importante giro en su trama. Pero no es el que  está  siendo vendido -al público-

Para entender que esto no es una victoria que se está anunciando usted tiene que leer la letra pequeña en la declaración conjunta por el Departamento de Justicia, el Departamento del Ejército y el Departamento del Interior:

“El Ejército no autorizará la construcción de la tubería de acceso Dakota cerca de los limites  o debajo del Lago Oahe hasta que se pueda determinar si será necesario reconsiderar cualquiera de sus decisiones anteriores  bajo la Ley Nacional de Política Ambiental (NEPA) u otras leyes federales en relación al sitio del Lago Oahe”

Tenga en cuenta lo que realmente se está diciendo aquí, lo que se promete y lo que no es.

¿Qué es lo que en realidad se está efectuando? Mayor consideración.

Pero la siguiente sección es un poco más prometedor ¿verdad?

“Por lo tanto, la construcción de la tubería en la cercanía limitrófe  o bajo el Lago Oahe no va a seguir adelante en este momento. El Ejército se moverá con rapidez para tomar esta determinación, ya que todos los involucrados – incluyendo la compañía del oleoducto  y sus trabajadores – merecen una resolución clara y oportuna. Mientras tanto, solicitamos que la compañía  haga pausa voluntaria en toda actividad de construcción dentro de 20 millas al este o al oeste del lago de Oahu “.

Ahora las cosas están en espera en el lago Oahe mientras los del poder lo piensan- atrávez de  algunos más – no hay garantías sobre cómo se sentirán cuando todo está dicho y hecho. El resto es solo una petición voluntaria que se extendió a la compañía.

Vamos a reflexionar sobre esto por un momento: Una empresa que recientemente incitó a perros a atacar a los protectores del agua, incluyendo familias que dieron un paso hacia un sitio considerado sagrado para los Lakota y evitar su destrucción y a ellos se le pide que se haga voluntariamente lo correcto.

Pero la cosa es que probablemente lo harán por un momento, debido a lo que se les pide no es que diseñen otro redireccionamiento de la  ruta del oleóducto. En este momento, todo lo que se le está pidiendo es que juegan su parte en una actuación política a corto plazo destinada reducir la activación de un movimiento social, como sacarle el aire a una llanta.

La aspirante presidencial Hillary Clinton comenzaba a tomar un poco de calor por su silencio sobre la lucha de Standing Rock, entre la participación de Jill Stein, en una acción de bloqueo, que ayuda a ampliar el apoyo desde las redes  de comunicación social para la causa, y el inicio de la cobertura mediática, #NoDAPL estaba a punto de ser una verdadera espina en el costado de Clinton, y con más de 3.000 nativos reunidos en un acto sin precedentes de resistencia colectiva, una fuerza impredecible y posiblemente transformacional amenaza las agendas grandes de los poderosos.

Entonces, ¿qué hizo el gobierno federal? Probablemente la cosa más inteligente que podría tener: Nos dieron la ilusión de la victoria.

Como alguien que organiza contra la violencia de estado,conozco los patrones de pacificación en tiempos de agitación demasiado bien. Cuando una persona de color  es asesinada por la policía, por lo general sin consecuencias, y sobreviene la indignación pública, un punto de  pacificación que se nos ofrece es que el Departamento de Justicia (DOJ) investigará el tiroteo.

Es una táctica desescalamiento por parte del estado. Ayuda a distanciar momentos  entre la rabia y la desesperación que chocan entre sí, creando un período de reflexión para el público. La “Justicia” es todavía posible, se nos dice. Se nos pide que seamos pacientes hacia este asunto muy serio mientras se investiga en los más altos niveles de gobierno, y dada la atención debida.

La realidad, por supuesto, es que la gran mayoría de las investigaciones emprendidas por DOJ División de Derechos Civiles del Departamento de Justicia son despido sin falta – un promedio de falto no culpable es prácticamente inversa a la de otras investigaciones federales. Pero de aquí que el caso se arroje a un nivel federal es probable que la nota ya no aparecerá en la primera página de los medios y cualquier impulso acumulado para organizar detrás del caso se pierde – porque para muchas personas  el anuncio de que una investigación federal significa que el sistema está trabajando. Es como decir que alguien está mirando el caso más a fondo, que están realmente interesados,  que se están asegurando que “ se está haciendo algo” y por lo tanto esto ya nos da esperanza.

Entonces, ¿Cómo es esto similar a lo que sucede en Standing Rock?

Es el mismo viejo juego de engaño .

Las autoridades federales van a hacer una consideración muy seria , y después … ya veremos .

La fórmula no puede ser más clara.

A medida que la declaración del ejercito y departamento de justicia dice, ” este caso ha destacado la necesidad de un debate serio; si debe haber una reforma a nivel nacional con respecto a considerar opiniones de naciones Indigenas o tribus en estos tipos de proyectos de infraestructura”


¿Cuántas veces la gente que ha sido marginada se les ha ofrecido mayor discusión,  cuando lo que se necesita hacer es tomar una acción sustantiva.

Y ¿Con qué frecuencia tienen la promesa de conversación surgida de los frutos de la gente  en un estado de protesta?

Pero este es un gran momento para los demócratas. Una mina terrestre política ha sido limpiada y alejada del camino de Hillary Clinton y Obama y que se le celebra por según haber “puesto alto a la construcción del oleóducto” cuando el proyecto tiene por mucho solo una pausa. Después de todo, una pausa real en la construcción fuera de la zona del Lago Oahe, suponiendo la cooperación voluntaria de una corporación violenta implacable que ya ha demostrado que esta dispuesta a atacar con perros entrenados a niños para mantener su proyecto en marcha.

Pero Dakota Access LLC, probablemente apagará sus máquinas – por un (muy corto) tiempo. van a esperar a que el foco de atención que se ha ganado en los medios masivos se disipe  y para el hashtag #NoDAPL se calme. Esperarán hasta que el momento político sea menos tenso, y su oposición sea menos amplificada. Y entonces van a volver al trabajo – si lo permitimos . Esta es la verdadera historia : Esta lucha no se ha ganado ni  se ha perdido

Nuestra gente está aumentando en presencia y con fuerza, Pero la ilusión de la victoria es una cosa peligrosa, Algunos abrazan la ilusión porque no conocen otra cosa, algunos porque la necesitan . Todos queremos un final feliz. – Lo anhelo por ellos y me canso de esperar-  Pero si tu alzas  una copa por Obama y declaras esta batalla ganada, tu estás borrando una batalla que aún no ha terminado. Y al borrar esta lucha constante con tu celebración;  estarás ayudando a construir un oleóducto-


Mujeres en Resistencia Chicago

Erased By False Victory: Obama Hasn’t Stopped DAPL

#NoDAPL protesters gather for a boat action in Standing Rock on August 20. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

All Native struggles in the United States are a struggle against erasure. The poisoning of our land, the theft of our children, the state violence committed against us — we are forced to not only live in opposition to these ills, but also to live in opposition to the fact that they are often erased from public view and public discourse, outside of Indian Country. The truth of our history and our struggle does not match the myth of American exceptionalism, and thus, we are frequently boxed out of the narrative.

The struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota, has been no exception, with Water Protectors fighting tooth and nail for visibility, ever since the Sacred Stone prayer encampment began on April 1.

For months, major news outlets have ignored what’s become the largest convergence of Native peoples in more than a century. But with growing social media amplification and independent news coverage, the corporate media had finally begun to take notice. National attention was paid. Solidarity protests were announced in cities around the country. The National Guard was activated in North Dakota.

The old chant, “The whole world is watching!” seemed on the verge of accuracy in Standing Rock.

And then came today’s ruling, with a federal judge finding against the Standing Rock Sioux, and declaring that construction of the pipeline could legally continue. It was the ruling I expected, but it still stung. I felt the sadness, anger and disappointment that rattled many of us as we received the news. But then something happened. Headlines like, “Obama administration orders ND pipeline construction to stop” and “The Obama Administration Steps In to Block the Dakota Access Pipeline” began to fill my newsfeed, with comments like, “Thank God for Obama!” attached to them.

Clearly, a major plot twist has occurred. But it’s not the one that’s being sold.

To understand that this isn’t the victory it’s being billed as, you have to read the fine print in the presently lauded joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior:

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.”

Note what’s actually being said here, what’s being promised and what isn’t.

What is actually being guaranteed?

Further consideration.

But this next section is a little more promising, right?

“Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.  The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution.  In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahu.”

So things are on hold at Lake Oahe until the powers that be think it through some more — with no assurances about how they’ll feel when it’s all said and done. The rest is a voluntary ask being extended to the company.

Let’s reflect on that for a moment: A company that recently sicced dogs on Water Protectors, including families, who stepped onto a sacred site to prevent its destruction, is being asked to voluntarily do the right thing.

But the thing is, they probably will. For a moment. Because what’s being asked of them isn’t an actual reroute. Right now, all that’s being asked is that they play their part in a short term political performance aimed at letting the air out of a movement’s tires.

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton was beginning to take a bit of heat for her silence on the Standing Rock struggle. Between Jill Stein’s participation in a lockdown action, broadening social media support for the cause, and the beginnings of substantial media coverage, #NoDAPL was on the verge of being a real thorn in Clinton’s side. And with more than 3,000 Natives gathered in an unprecedented act of collective resistance, an unpredictable and possibly transformational force was menacing a whole lot of powerful agendas.

So what did the federal government do? Probably the smartest thing they could have: They gave us the illusion of victory.

As someone who organizes against state violence, I know the patterns of pacification in times of unrest all too well. When a Black or Brown person is murdered by the police, typically without consequence, and public outrage ensues, one of the pacifications we are offered is that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will investigate the shooting. It’s a deescalation tactic on the part of the state. It helps transition away from moments when rage and despair collide, creating a cooling off period for the public. “Justice” is still possible, we are told. We are asked to be patient as this very serious matter is investigated at the highest level of government, and given all due consideration.

The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of investigations taken up by the DOJ Civil Rights Division end in dismissal – a batting average that’s pretty much inverse to that of other federal investigations. But by the time a case gets tossed at the federal level, it’s probably not front page news anymore, and any accumulated organizing momentum behind the issue may have been lost — because to many people, the mere announcement of a federal investigation means that the system is working. Someone is looking into this, they’re assured. Something is being done. Important people have expressed that they care, and thus there is hope.

So how is this similar to what’s happening with Standing Rock?

It’s the same old con game.

Federal authorities are going to give a very serious matter very serious consideration, and then… we’ll see.

The formula couldn’t be clearer.

As the joint statement says, “this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects.”


How many times have marginalized people been offered further discussion when what they needed was substantive action? And how often has the mere promise of conversation born fruit for those in a state of protest?

But this is a great moment for the Democrats. A political landmine has been swept out of Hillary Clinton’s path and Obama will be celebrated as having “stopped a pipeline” when the project has, at best, been paused. After all, an actual pause in construction, outside of the Lake Oahe area, assumes the cooperation of a relentless, violent corporation, that has already proven it’s wiling to let dogs loose on children to keep its project on track.

But Dakota Access, LLC probably will turn off its machines — for a (very) little while. They’ll wait for the media traction that’s been gained to dissipate, and for the #NoDAPL hashtag to get quieter. They’ll wait until the political moment is less fraught, and their opposition is less amped. And then they will get back to work — if we allow it.

Here’s the real story: This fight has neither been won nor lost. Our people are rising and they are strong. But the illusion of victory is a dangerous thing. Some embrace it because they don’t know better, some because they need to. We all want happy endings. Hell, I long for them, and I get tired waiting. But if you raise a glass to Obama and declare this battle won, you are erasing a battle that isn’t over yet. And by erasing an ongoing struggle, you’re helping to build a pipeline.

Why You Should Stop Apologizing For Doing All That You Can

I’ve noticed lately that lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly apologize that they can’t do more. Often, the apologies seem perfunctory, or even insincere, but sometimes, they seem quite heartfelt. Personally, I deal with enough ideological tourists and movement loitering to feel a little sad when good people are doing good things, and feeling shitty about themselves anyway.

Maybe they don’t realize how many people applaud themselves for “standing on the right side of history,” as though reading an article or a book, and figuring out where to “stand,” is how one affects the course of history.

Or perhaps they just don’t know how to appreciate themselves — or have even been taught not to.

So I just want to say to everyone — whether you see yourself as an ally, accomplice or frontline struggler:

If you are really doing all that you can, you have nothing to apologize for.

Because if you are really and truly doing all that you can, you’re actually setting a pretty high standard for the rest of us.

And if you are really and truly doing all that you can, you should appreciate that about yourself, and allow yourself to be appreciated by others. Because as simple as it may sound, it’s often hard for us to internalize the fact that, on the scale of what we can all contribute, all you can is actually everything.

If you’re accustomed to selling yourself short, that may seem a little grandiose, so let’s vision this through for a moment:

Can you imagine how much closer to free we could get if everyone really did all that they could — within their own capacity, without martyring themselves in a heap of burnout?

What would it look like?

What could we build?

I think some of us have seen snapshots of what that could look like, in moments of consuming, fast-paced community collaboration, where we had to take care of each other to sustain community, and the work. But those breakneck sprints of action and inspiration, and the community-care triage that they necessitate, are not a model for day-to-day living. Because that intensity burns out. A broad, sustainable vision — and a simple one really — of community where everyone who claims to care passionately about a thing simply does all they can, and does their best… that’s obviously a dream that’s still under construction.

When we think about what obstacles impede that dream, we might first think of the internal failings of individuals: apathy, selfishness, etc. But what informs these tendencies? Is it possible that we are taught that some contributions are too small to matter, and that some are so great that they’ll make all the difference? Are we caught in a mythology where we are deemed either heroic or insignificant?

The idea that heroic individuals somehow marshal their talents, and resources (hello, Batman), to liberate the masses has, to put it mildly, an oppressive functionality. If internalized, it has the potential to shorten our social and political reach, due to our own self obsession. In movement building, we learn that heroic communities, rather than heroic individuals, propel our freedom dreams. Such communities are made up of people of all capacities, who bravely and lovingly do all they can.

Respecting our differing capacities is part of taking care of each other, and personally, I want to live in world where we honor each other’s contributions, celebrate one another, and love and care for each other.
So the bottom line here is: Be glad to acknowledge that you do all you can.

Let’s not teach others, who might take an interest in movement work, that feelings of insufficiency and guilt are the inevitable consequences of those efforts. We can be humble without erasing or diminishing ourselves. We can tell people what it means to us to do what we can, and we can discuss the different shapes that can take — and how fulfilling it can be.

If you’re reading this and thing to yourself, “Well, I really could do a lot more,” you could be right. I don’t know your story, or who depends on you, what your health is like or what resources you have to give. But if you think you have more to offer, don’t approach those efforts from a place of guilt — because as you may have noticed, the guilt of the privileged has never gotten anyone free.

So take joy in sharing your efforts and ideas with others. Celebrate what it means to be a resistor acting in defense of your community, or acting in solidarity with others. And if you’re a white accomplice, appreciate what it means to be a full-fledged traitor to white supremacy. Because that’s a beautiful thing and worth smiling about.

I’m not saying we should gloss over the messes we make and wade through in our organizing spaces. As communities, we need to be real about the rough places movement work can go — especially when discussing the structural oppressions we replicate in our own spaces. But we also need to feel right about the things we deserve to feel right about, and to remind each other of that.

If your goal is to be enough to put right everything that’s wrong, you will never be enough. But if your goal is to build a culture and a community that upends its oppressions, then the best you’ve got — the best that a whole lot of us have got — is exactly what it’s going to take.

It’s easy to tell people not to burn out, but I think it sometimes helps to think of movements as larger forces of nature — as constellations of actions, movements, stories and freedom fighters. There are all kinds of action-takers who show us what the pursuit of freedom looks like.

So just do your best today, and do it again tomorrow, and feel right about that. Because together, we will get there.

On #NoDAPL and Paying Attention: They Sicced Dogs On My People Today

14232544_10208616269138580_3157349067699097161_n-2Dakota Access, LLC has declared war on my people — Native People — by attempting to snake an unwanted pipeline through Native land, drinking water and sacred sites. Today, this corporate force confronted peaceful Water Protecters with vicious dogs and pepper spray.

This is where we are now.

At least six Water Protectors were bitten by corporate attack dogs. Witnesses described some of the injuries incurred as “serious.” Dozens of protesters were treated for pepper spray exposure, and a horse was reportedly wounded in the attack.

But corporate violence was unable to beat back the gathering Water Protectors, and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was once again brought to a halt.

Your awareness raising has been crucial and will continue to be. We are slowly, collectively forcing the mainstream media’s hand, and visibility is so key in this profound and dangerous moment. Please keep helping in whatever ways you can. I truly believe that this battle has the potential to propel us all a little closer to freedom — and to save Native lives.

My collective is not alone in asking for this solidarity, here in Chicago. Groups around the city, including Black Lives Matter Chicago, have joined the call for action and awareness. Both the Brown and Black members of Lifted Voices are deeply heartened by this. Our struggles are not the same, but they will always intersect. And we can all heal and build power by healing and building together.

Like anti-Blackness, the harms against Native peoples are often painted as distant cultural memories. But the Native struggle for survival and self determination is being fought for, here and now, on this very page of history. The #NoDAPL convergence is unfolding in an unprecedented manner, and it should appear in every newsfeed, and on every timeline. We need that assistance. And we need a lot more.

We need white accomplices to avidly betray and undermine white supremacy in this moment. Because sometimes, having a sense of honor means being a traitor to a hierarchy in which you are afforded privilege and power.

We need our non-Native allies to continue to lock arms with us.

We need everyone. Because we can’t do this alone.

If I seem a bit fixated lately, it’s because I am. These are my people, living through a frightening, yet heartening and extraordinary moment. I feel it in my veins, just as I feel the ancestral fire that has sustained us throughout this country’s attempt to erase and annihilate us.

I know that movement moments are unpredictable, and that outcomes are unknowable. But when lightening strikes, it can spark cultural (and subcultural) shifts that crack the very walls that contain us.

Remember, plot twists flip scripts.

Personal note: I can’t go back to North Dakota until my health is somewhat restored, but I will keep writing till my brain fries. I will also be speaking about this struggle on Friday, at a rally here in Chicago, and at the Chicago BGD Book Launch Party: for “The Solidarity Struggle” a week from today. Please join us if you can — in whatever way you can.