I don’t like analyses that center on the individual as a means to explain political phenomenon.
As in, if you talk to me about the ecology from an individual responsibility perspective, there’s a great chance I’ll call you an eco-fascist (I’m harsh and in a bad mood a lot. I’m a working Arab mother of two daughters with personalities bigger than mine, come at me). I’ll ask you why you’re trying to guilt-trip struggling workers for not recycling or buying hand-picked local produce that cost half their salary while you remain silent about the states and corporations that consciously destroy the planet. I don’t really believe in mantras that’ll have you ‘heal the world through healing yourself’ or that insist that ‘life is what you make of it’, as if people existed in a vacuum, un-impacted by the realities formed by the material conditions within which they exist.
I have issues with call-out culture, I abhor privilege theory: to me, they do not particularly help securing accountability for harm that has been done and do nothing by way of societal transformation to guarantee non-recurrence. Also more often that not, these analyses fail to meaningfully engage with class exploitation under capitalism, and please, can we really pretend to be talking about dismantling systemics forms of oppression if we’re not addressing the impacts of capitalism and how it needs and sustains and interacts with racism, sexism and other forms of oppression? (Hint and shocker, the answer’s a no).
Any overfocus on the individual level instead of interrogating broader institutionalized patterns of discrimination and systems of oppression is to me synonymous with depoliticization of struggles. Instead of fighting the systems that create and sustain oppression and dismantle power dynamics that enabled said oppression and discrimination to happen in the first place, political struggles get reduced to a set of arbitrarily defined behaviours used as performative tools for activism.
Neo-liberalism loves that by the way: this approach enables it to co-opt messages and remove them from the realm of collective action and political contestation to make individuals responsible instead of the powers that be.
Call me a grumpy communist, call me a feminist kill joy, what can I say, I like changing systems and addressing root causes.
And yet there is definitely something to be said for ensuring that our individual behaviours reflect what we fight for collectively, to the extent possible and bearing in mind that our lives are molded by our material conditions and by broader systems within which we exist. Is there truly a point in devoting your life to dismantling systems of oppression if you trample on everyone in doing so?
Within these margins lie our individual responsibility to practice what we preach and our collective responsibility to prevent harmful behaviours, our own and that of others’, from impacting others within our movements.
I find this last point extremely difficult. How do we create accountability mechanisms within our movements to ensure that people who have been harmed get justice from a space that they had considered as safe? How do we politically grow by opening up space for difficult conversations? Not conversations that pertain to political strategies and tactics, but conversations that need to center how we treat each other? How do we discuss problematic behaviours, keeping in mind power dynamics and avoiding policing?
I had started this piece really wanting to once again talk about radical political love, about how to consciously make our activism a labor of love, where we practice solidarity in a very concrete way, showing up for comrades embodying feminist values. And I believe in this like it’s my job, and I try to extend love and care whenever I can, to use my anger to move things forward, to be there for other women and girls, to look at solidarity from up close and unpeel all of its layers until I get to the core of it. Solidarity exists in multitudes, just like us, and there is not a single way of standing in solidarity with groups leading their way through liberation, but a myriad of them.
And sometimes it comes easily to me: after all, it’s easy to materialize and be present for the comrades you love, it’s easy to meet women and lift them up. It’s not work, or at least it doesn’t feel like it, and it feels great because you feel aligned with what your core values are. Embracing and holding space for each other, inside or outside of political and social movements, isn’t the hard part.
Things become tough when you’re confronted with behaviours that contradict these values, whether from within or from others. Suddenly radical love, including radical self-love, becomes difficult to practice: political debates and disagreement are one thing, and they are more than healthy and needed and allow us to grow, both as individuals and movements, but harmful behaviours, personal antipathies and other negative dynamics are something else entirely and don’t always call for accountability mechanisms. What are the implications of these inevitable dynamics on our movements?
People are multilayered, relationships are complex, and once again the success or failure of organizations and movements should not be left up to individual relationships: rather, we need democratic structures and institutions within them that provide a buffer against negative elements that can be nefarious to movements and trans-movement solidarity.
Despite commitments to radical love, we must also admit that we simply can not love everyone, and that rooting our activism in love is different than wanting to love every individual we meet. One is a political act, the other is simply impossible, and we need to be ok with that.