Hope in the collective

I just finished reading Angela Davis’ Freedom Is A Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement and I must say, what an eye-opening read. Most of my reads are enlightening in many ways, but this book — which is a collection of interviews, essays, and speeches from activist and icon of the Black Power movement Angela Davis — provides some connection between the racial struggles in the United States with the capitalism embedded in the prison-industrial complex, which extends to contribute to state violence and oppression throughout the world. Davis urges for the interconnectedness of movements from around the world — through intersectionality, “efforts to think, analyse, organise as we recognise the interconnections of race, class, gender, sexuality” — from Ferguson to Palestine to Gezi to create well-organised mass movements against the injustices of the world. All of these movements, united “not so much by intersectionality of identities, but intersectionality of struggles”, for “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”, and “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Goosebumps.

Our histories never unfold in isolation. We cannot truly tell what we consider to be our own histories without knowing the other stories. And often we discover that those other stories are actually our own stories.

Davis also stresses on the power of well-organised mass movements against individualism. One such incident is the failed focus on relying upon change through one individual charismatic leader such as the appointment of Barack Obama as the first Black president in what was allegedly called the “post-racial age”, when what we should be focusing is demanding for justice through systemic changes.

Another such incident is the indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who was charged and jailed for shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, indirectly eclipsing the problems of structural injustices and deviating the attention to punishing and putting full blame on an individual perpetrator.

But how is it possible to solve the massive problem of racist state violence by calling upon individual police officers to bear the burden of that history and to assume that by prosecuting them, by exacting our revenge on them, we would have somehow made progress in eradicating racism? If one imagines these vast expressions of solidarity all over the world as being focused only on the fact that individual police officers were not prosecuted, it makes very little sense. I’m not suggesting that individuals should not be held accountable. Every individual who engages in such a violent act of racism, of terror, should be held accountable. But what I am saying is that we have to embrace projects that address the sociohistorical conditions that enable these acts.

What I find the most interesting and indirectly related to my thesis is again, how Davis stresses the power of collective action against the romanticisation of charismatic leadership or even the idea of leaderlessness, which is prevalence in networked movements in the age of social media these days:

But, as activist historian Barbara Ransby has emphasised, we cannot romanticise leaderlessness. She recently pointed out that:

“Those who romanticise the concept of leaderless movements often misleadingly deploy Ella Baker’s words, “Strong people don’t need [a] strong leader.” Baker delivered this message in various iterations over her fifty-year career working in the trenches of racial-justice struggles, but what she meant was specific and contextual. She was calling for people to disinvest from the notion of the messianic, charismatic leader who promises political salvation in exchange for deference. Baker also did not mean that movements would naturally emerge without collective analysis, serious strategising, organising, mobilising and consensus building.”

New organisations such as Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, Justice League NYC, and We Charge Genocide are a few of the new-generation organisations that have developed new models of leadership and that acknowledge how important Black feminist insights are to the development of viable twenty-first-century radical Black movements.

Davis reaffirms by saying “every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements”, not individualism, which was what had been perpetuated by neoliberalism today. In the end, it is in these collective, mass-organised movements that we should “find reservoirs of hope and optimism”. Goosebumps again. What a great book.

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