My friend often says that she is ‘grumpy, politically so’, which has to be one of the most wonderful sentence I have ever heard, and one that conveys perfectly the type of political disappointment we often experience by simply looking around us and thinking ‘well, shit’.
I usually like to do the apology of joy in struggle. I speak enthusiastically about political love, the one you grow for your comrades, I want to highlight how, in a world and global political system that are designed to divide, fragment and crush us, we have found ways to resist in love and joy. Precisely because if and when divided, it is easier for capitalism to make us insensitive to its abuses, to turn us into consumers only, instead of being politically conscious and aware beings, beings that can spot the dire flaws in the system and revolt against it. I want to show how capitalism has not managed to commodify of all our interactions, that we are still finding comfort and solace not only in each other as individuals, but also in each other as collectives, as mobilized groups, as a powerful force built to reverse and dismantle every systemic oppression we were born under. Solidarity finds its meaning in the collective, in this radical notion that the individual is not everything, and that personal freedoms mean nothing if they are granted to the detriment of others.
That’s what I love to do, because I truly believe that it is this love that we decide to create and sustain that hold our movements together. That it is this joy in togetherness that we find that helps ignite the sparks of revolution. That we can manage to turn our traumatic experiences of oppression and discrimination into something radically beautiful, for what feels more wonderful than the touch of another human being letting you know they’ve got you? There is a lot of frustration in political organizing, a lot toxic dynamics, a lot of egos to manage, so much so that we might forget the outbursts of joy we are still able to create while imagining what an alternative world could look like. A world that has not been conquered by racialized, patriarchal, heteronormative capitalist regimes.
I’m also a big proponent of anger, especially in women, for our anger has been silenced for too long, seen as ‘hysteria’ for too long, derided and undermined for too long, instead of seeing it for what it was: a legitimate rebellion against the centuries of oppression we have been forced to live under.
Joy, love, anger, all emotions I can deal with. All emotions I’ll happily defend, with the underlying assumption that political work is emotional work. It is patriarchy and capitalism that have decided a long time ago that being ‘emotional’ was a slur, that to be taken seriously you needed to appear ‘reasonable’ and ‘detached’. Guess which of these terms form an integral part of the socialization of cismen, and which have been attributed to women. But I maintain that political work is a labor of love, that without passion you can not move people, that without passion you can not even move yourself. It’s because women traditionally do all of the emotional work – in relationships, politically, at work- that this work has been historically invisibilized and undermined.
To do political work, social justice, economic justice, reproductive justice work, work that directly deals with people’s material conditions, with their lives, with their health, with everything that sustains them, is emotional: the moment we can watch people suffer and die and feel nothing is the moment we have to start worrying about why we’re doing this work in the first place.
There is however an emotion I don’t know what to make of, however ubiquitous, and this emotion is heartbreak. What do you do when a certain situation inspires you nothing but deep, infinite sadness? Joy and anger move you into action, love sustains you. But sadness? Sadness does nothing but weigh you down. Sadness makes you feel disempowered, it prevents you from moving forward, it is unable to propel you into building something.
Watching Lebanon over the past couple of weeks has brought me nothing but heartbreak and worry, an anxiety I had not felt for it in a long time, a sort of constant muted fear gnawing at my heart, a dull ache I didn’t want to look at for fear of it eating me whole. Looking at it didn’t help, it just brought on more hopelessness and heartbreak.
There’s actually no other word for it than this one: heartbreak. When you can feel the cracks all over your heart widen and lengthen, when your traditional defenses no longer work and when all that is left is an overflowing sorrow. To belong to the diaspora also means feeling this sadness laced with guilt and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Guilt has never helped anyone though, it’s probably a relic of one religion or the other, and you can happily do away with it.
What can I do? What is there to be done? You frantically look for things to keep yourself occupied so you don’t have to feel. Doing is always a nice distraction from feeling.
That’s the thing about sadness though. It doesn’t dislodge from your throat until it has forced you down and made you feel it. Until you have properly sat down with it, pored over it and allowed it to fill you to the brim, until there is none left to feel anymore.
Sadness is humbling, it forces you to recognize that sometimes, there is quite literally nothing you can do, at that point of time, at that particular moment. The time for doing will come back, once you have allowed yourself to feel, once you have sat in the pure stillness and silence of heartbreak, only then will you be able to start doing again.
Until then, be the kind hand that rests on a tired shoulder. Offer love, and kindness, and compassion. Keep your anger folded and filed for later. It’ll be needed when you organize, in joy and in love, to burn down and uproot the causes for sadness.