activism

Artwork by Rae Minji Lee, with photography by Carolina Marinati (CC0)

Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures

In this collection on “Spirituality and Survival: Imaginative Freedoms for Abolition Futures,” authors engage key questions of Black survival in this moment: How are Black communities activating our ancestral knowledge to cultivate a future we are willing to fight for and worlds in which we want to survive? We invited authors to consider the following questions in their writing: How are you showing up right now to take care of yourself and to care for others? How are you showing up in mindful solidarity with the movements confronting police violence and demanding abolition? What contemplative insights, spiritual wisdoms, or dharmic teachings are you finding most relevant for society or for you, personally, in this time? How have Black histories of protest, riots, and revolutions related to spirituality? How have our ancestors, both familial lineages and intellectual inspirations, responded to past turmoils with insight and vision across the diaspora? How can the changes we need, including the abolition of prisons and police, be spiritually guided, mindfully motivated, and creatively conjured now and tomorrow? How can these …

We Need More Fugitives

radical Black feminist thoughtfeelings (& propaganda) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” —Minnie Ransom And so begins Toni Cade Bambara’s 1980 novel, The Salt Eaters: Its protagonist Velma Henry, resistantly coming undone in the hands of Minnie Ransom, a trusted healer intimately acquainted with the voices of her ancestral guides. This novel is unsettling for many reasons. Structurally, the many voices and perspectives Bambara uses to tell the story disregard narrative conventions. Deeper still, Velma Henry, a black woman activist hospitalized and seeking healing after a sucide attempt,  stands as a haunting embodiment of the ways embattled resistance can literally tear apart the bodymind. I’ve written out parts of that opening line and posted it on my walls and doors in nearly every place I’ve lived over the past five years. Currently it sparkles in golden glitter ink on a white piece of paper next to my bed. …

Con*cep*tion

Prologue We all strive for understanding and meaning. Yet too often, we arrive at understanding by a consensus of the few. Our definitions, numbered and lettered, give us form from which we build beliefs and systems.  One of the skillful means I appreciate about Chogyäm Trungpa, an influential Tibetan Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to the West, was his ability to play with words to reveal the potential of any word to hold wisdom. Each piece below engages in a narrative that invites you to reconsider the normative definition of a word or phrase and what is true in your experience.  Each may give you an opportunity to create and experience and witness one. Although all pieces below reflect some aspect of Black birth and mothering, they simultaneously engage with how we relate to our world. Con*cep*tion We are all capable of conceiving. Some make worlds, others systems, still others ideology. All of this contributes to our (personal) Now and This Now (cultural) of the last 400+ years, which has deteriorated our humanity. Yet, co-arising …

Photograph by shah noor hussein

Meant to Survive: Creativity as a Path to Abolition

Over 40 years ago, Audre Lorde evocatively reminded us that “we were never meant to survive” as Black people of the diaspora living under colonial empires with capitalist agendas.1 In 2012, Alexis Pauline Gumbs revisited this pivotal poem, “A Litany for Survival,” in her article “The Shape of My Impact,” stating that survival has “never meant, bare minimum,” but rather “references our living in the context of what we have overcome”.2 Speaking to each other across decades, Lorde and Gumbs emphasize the exceptional power of surviving under systems of oppression, imperialism, and colonialism. To live through these experiences while finding ways to express ourselves, honor our creativity, and nourish our spirits is no small act. We have overcome tremendous traumas, and this is a great strength. As Octavia Butler proclaims, “God is Change,” and if God is a Black womxn, we are her children.3 Black folks have adapted to many things—colonization, imperialism, and climate change, to name a few—shifting our ways of being in conjunction with spiritual and ancestral teachings. While we must be weary …

Land-Based Ethics and Settler Solidarity in a Time of Corona and Revolution

Settler colonialism has been defined as a structure, not an event, meaning that settler societies like the U.S., Canada, and Australia endure over time through racist laws and ideologies that naturalize the dispossession of Indigenous populations.1 One of the most effective strategies that settler states rely on to eliminate Indigenous peoples and their power is the idea that their knowledges are primitive and superstitious, examples of failed epistemology.2 This view is rooted in an Enlightenment-born materialism that asserts that legitimate knowledge can only be produced through narrow empirical methods, relegating the negotiations of immaterial life to the social margins.3 As the colonial project progresses, legitimate knowledge production is simultaneously tethered to race and power (reserved to the white and landed), resulting in what we have come to know as modernity.4 Settler colonialism seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations in order to monopolize resources for the sake of capital. It operates through laws and racist ideologies, but also through conceptualizations of the natural world as white men’s for the human taking. Settler colonialism operates from its own …

Survival Will Always Be Insufficient, but It’s a Good Place to Start

Rereading Emily St. John Mandel’s speculative fiction novel Station Eleven at the start of the pandemic was strangely reassuring. The book toggles between the onset of a future global flu pandemic and the lives of people living twenty years later. I often find post-apocalyptic fiction helpful for affirming the possibility of going on past disaster. Station Eleven is explicitly organized around the proposition that “survival is insufficient.” This phrase—tattooed on a character’s arm and written on the side of the traveling theatre and musical troupe’s vehicle in the twenty-years-from-pandemic plotline—comes from a Star Trek episode. In the book, the phrase, “survival is insufficient,” asserts that people deserve art, and music, and other seemingly useless things that are apparently secondary to basic biological survival. To reprise the 1912 labor slogan, we need not only bread but also roses: Beauty is integral to surviving and thriving. What does it mean for us to fight for roses—for more than survival—when so many people are not even surviving? Ruth Wilson Gilmore defines racism as “the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production …

Photograph by Trudi Lynn Smith

Toilet Paper as Terror Management

The toilet paper aisle at my local grocery store was the first to go barren. Similar scenes of scatalogical scarcity are now the norm across North America as consumers prepare for months of physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can find footage online of shoppers fighting over the last roll, and The New York Times recently reported on a toilet paper shipment requiring police escort. It is peculiar that in the early days of this crisis, a pooping accessory took priority over food. Survival instincts appear low in late capitalism. Fortunately, there is a body of social psychology that helps explain the collective impulse to put our heads in our asses in this moment of genuine crisis, and it’s called “Terror Management Theory (or TMT). TMT is rooted in the work of Ernest Becker, who won a Pulitzer for his 1973 book The Denial of Death. According to Becker, the intense existential fear caused by the reality of death compels us to psychologically buffer ourselves with fantasies of supremacy that compensate for …

Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement

There is a social change parable that powerfully illustrates the vital connection between contemplative practice and social change: There was once a village located next to a river. One day, during a break from her chores, a villager spotted a baby coursing down the river, struggling to stay afloat. As she waded into the water to save the child, the villager noticed that two other babies had already streamed by. She cried out to her fellow villagers who joined her in the rescue effort. But babies continued to appear. The village quickly organized itself to save the struggling children. After hours of endless work two villagers broke away from the group and began running away. The other townspeople called out to them: “Why are you leaving? We need you here to save these babies!” The two villagers bellowed back: “We’re heading upstream to find out who is throwing them in the river!” This story demonstrates the importance of simultaneously attending to the many injustices that shape our world (fishing babies out of the water), while …