Yesterday I had the luck of sitting in on a great discussion to mark the launch of Toward Collective Liberation, a book by Chris Crass that draws on lessons learned as a veteran of the 90s upsurge in radical anti-authoritarianism. From anti-racist organizing in poor white communities, to feminist work with men, to confronting the oppressive behaviors and mindsets we all harbor as we struggle against them, Crass tackles tough stuff with the clear eye and an open heart.
These are my notes from his remarks and the ensuing discussion. It's a combination of attempts to quote Crass and other involved in the discussion, and my own efforts at paraphrase. Any clumsy-sounding notions are mine, because Crass & the other present were all sharp and great.
on internalized oppressive behavior
A lot of times you come into activism, and make connections with other people, based on the things you oppose. If you do this stuff long enough, though, you start to discover that the things you oppose aren't just *out there* in the world--they're within **you** too.
After I'd been doing this stuff for a while and had studied the history of social movements for a while, I started to think that the best way for me to be anti-oppressive was to just withdraw completely from the world. "Oh good, I didn't accidentally oppress anyone today by exerting white privilege or male dominance on them--that's my activism for the day." I had to learn that it doesn't really work like that--withdrawal is not a strategy.
on high knowledge barriers to entry
Especially when you're young, there's this expectation within activist groups that you sort of need to have it all figured out, and you feel a sense of responsibility to front like you understand everything already just because you don't want to accidentally make someone mad at you. How often have you seen a group you're involved with tear itself apart over divisions about race, gender, and class?
It's almost like we expect people to be like Neo in the Matrix, that they can just pick up a phone and say "Tank, download me the histories of all radical social movements and a working knowledge of appropriate antioppressive vocabularies," and then *blooooop* it's all there.
on more-radical-than-thou politicking
How often were the splits partly about taking more radical-than-thou stances to prove some kind of radical bona fides to yourself and your peer groups? What we ought to be doing instead is creating a culture and developing a practice that allows room for vulnerability, and learning, and encourages growth.
on mass movements intersecting with radical politics
An important question to discuss here is how we can work to move large numbers of people--not just big, like hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but society-changing numbers of people--how do we move that many people to recognize their privileges and work to dismantle them for collective liberation?
Engaging with mass movements where not everyone involved may be on the same ground as you politically across the board is a challenge, but remember: figuring out how to integrate a massive population into your movement is a *good* problem to have.
on moving dissenters toward your position
It's important to move to apply pressure in places where there's already momentum for motion--find the people in the group of hostile folks who you can build common ground with, and work to push from there. Work to show these folks you're working with that you're a person just like they are, and you may see their opposition to some of your other issues begin to be dealt with differently.
Conversely: don't waste your energy on targets where your efforts seem like a head against the wall.
on anti-authoritarian leadership
So much of anarchist or anti-authoritarian movements are allergic to the very notion of leadership, and I wonder if that's a problem--I don't think our concern should be with leadership per se or power per se so much as how to wield power in a positive, liberatory way, how to lead by working to create a culture that's supportive of individual anti-oppressive development.
on group dynamics
History and past relationships within a group often turn out to be a group strengthening thing for veterans, but they can be walls for new people. We need to work to make those relationships into something more like hammocks, supportive networks that new people feel capable of trusting to lean into.
That said, never let the work of battling oppression internally--within yourself or within your group--make you forget that you have a purpose, that you're fighting for the future. In other words--don't become the most anti-oppressive group on earth that doesn't actually do anything.
Check the book out. It's full of insightful, useful, and even visionary material. I'll be interviewing Chris next week on Voices of the 99%, so keep your eyes open for that. As you say.