In this guest piece, writer and activist Crystal Vance Guerra speaks to the self defense based philosophy of a new feminist organization in Chicago. Lifted Voices is an organization grounded in the cultural, political and personal self defense of women and non binary people of color. In this piece, Crystal also addresses the larger need for an organizing praxis grounded in the defense of our own bodies and lives. As one of the co-founders of Lifted Voices, I am proud to share Crystal’s thoughts on these matters.
The body is the site of all history and all language. It was through these bodies that humanity first experienced and expressed art and anger, love and oppression. And it is the body that, for all that is said about the ‘end’ of racism and sexism and all the -isms, continues to relive injustice, experience breaking through all this air-thin talk of equality.
Maladjusted, we understand that experience is conditioned on systems of power and exploitation and we refuse to assimilate. We understand that this nation was built and continues to stand on the broken backs of millions of black and brown and yellow and red peoples and even green and blue (mother earth). And we understand that liberation is a physical as well as a mental and spiritual process.
Every civilization before and apart from capitalism had physical rituals as part of their self and community strengthening. Yoga, dance and even fighting were sacred acts, always within a larger cosmology of harmony and being in this world. We recognize our bodies, our muscles, our balance as necessary focal points of exploration and development in order to learn about our selves, our selves who have always been denied anger, resistance, existence. How can we say to know ourselves when our very bodies have been torn from us.
The interpersonal violence we face in our everyday as women of color and non-binary peoples finds its systemic reproduction in the State violence we denounce daily. The State, and particularly the U.S. government and corporations have a monopoly on ‘legitimate violence’. They can kill without (or, perhaps better said, with) discrimination, mask cruelty with innocence and entitlement and destroy community in the name of national security. As women of color and non-binary peoples systematically subjected to all forms of ‘legitimate violence’, we see clearly that we must denounce, challenge and transform this contradiction with our bodies as well as our minds.
The world is structured so that we cannot walk, laugh, dance, eat, grow, live safely, which is to say freely, expressing the freedom always already within us, so it becomes our duty to train. Oppression and abuse are unapologetic and so are we.
Self-defense, the only possible form of ‘legitimate violence’, is a reclaiming of our bodies. It is a praxis (among many) through which we can begin to reconnect that which has been divided: the body, mind and spirit. It is the cathartic, directed release of rage transformed into self-love, which is also love of our communities. Every time we step on the mat to begin training we bow, giving thanks to all those who have fought before us and, without knowing, for us. Comprehending with every quickened heart beat that it is our duty to fight. This land, no matter how much concrete is re-poured every how many years, will always remember the blood, sweat and laughter that brought each of us to this present moment of history. Radical self-defense pulls from a long organizing tradition, born from the need to make material our critique of the very physical violence we experience.
The etymology of radical is radix, root, and means forming the root. Unlike extremist positions of white supremacy, our critique, both physical and analytical, addresses the root, the history, of our exploitation and our liberation. We denounce the police, the KKK, the minute men, the military and all other forms of State sanctioned ‘self-defense’ groups as false flags, as truly violent, unjust and irreparable due to their root and participation in the reproduction of the ‘original’ violence structuring the modern world: colonialism, slavery and capitalism.
Direct action can take many forms but it should always be rooted in the understanding that violence is destructive and self-defense is creative. Every act of resistance directed towards liberation will always be considered violent by the status quo no matter how ‘nonviolent,’ thus it is not a question of violence/nonviolence (an absurd either/or anyway considering how violence impacts us at every level of our existence) but of creativity.
Treated as criminal, we have always been improvisers, fighters, bruxas, locas, defying statistics and rationality with our existence/resistance and imagination. No coincidence anarchists, terrorists, gang members, and (statistically) all non-white peoples are always categorized as threats to the State (yellow peril, black power, alien invasion, etc).
And when we announce our presence the State acts so surprised, didn’t we kill you all off with colonialism, slavery, prisons, police, rape and foreign invasions? Yet they know they depend on us, and our submission. Abolition is the only response to these systems that continue to cut our wings.
The Hummingbird Commando is not a new idea but a continuation of the long history of self-defense in our radical traditions. Unapologetic self-defense, rooted in a militant, abolitionist critique and response to abuse, is the fusion of practice with vision, of justice and liberation.
Why do we train? To transform study into practice, dreams into experience and create the spaces in which we can lift our bodies and our selves, whole and free.