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April 5, 2012

What we have inherited / A time to imagine a new way of life

“I have been to India…” and there found traces of another place, a shadow that follows, a history of pain and dislocation that bled into me, like ink on paper. Days melted into each other, modes of transportation bookended deep and intense conversations, reflections were captured and condensed into “Ah-hah moments” on Post-its. At times I had to resist the constant motion and be, instead, still and silent in an effort to hold the emotions and ideas in place. I needed to experience them this way so that the dust could settle in my thoughts and in my heart. And what arose: Apne Aap gave me strategy; the Barefoot College brought me hope; Sonagachi reminded me of rage, rage, rage. This is true.

“…Meeting all these amazing women makes me remember why I love women,” said one of our cohort members in an off-beat moment, in the in-between, when chai and coffee were replenished to fuel our work. They were referring to the gift of all the lessons from the powerful, fierce, and compassionate women leaders who humbled and inspired us along our journey. The words had an immediate effect, creating a consonance amongst us in that moment. And this is also true.

My “pilgrimage” through India was also deeply enriched by each cohort member. It revealed the things we have all inherited: our past (shared and singular), our mistakes and missteps as individuals, as parts of different (and similar) communities, and as a movement. I see that we have inherited systems that have oppressed us, and also those we have, to varying degrees helped create/perpetuate. I see that we have also inherited lifetimes of stories, resilience, tools, strategies, laughter and dialectical thinking.

My reading companion throughout India was Grace Lee and James Boggs, "Revolution and Evolution." When I chose this book at the last minute, I didn’t know it would be the perfect piece of work to carry with me as I tried to make sense of all the lessons from Move to End Violence, my fellow cohort members, and our sisters and allies in India.  One lesson from this reading, that I saw reflected in every aspect of our journey, is the understanding that the movement we are trying to (re)create and (re)invigorate is not only a movement, but a way of life. It is a way of life to which we are committing ourselves. As another cohort member said, “I see now that activism is not what you do, it is a way of life.”

We realized that the work we arrive at together as a cohort to (not begin, but) continue to move towards ending violence against women and girls is not the movement, but a strategy within the movement. Grace Lee and James Boggs wrote about the value of a “social program” that would clearly detail the vision of the world we are working towards.  This social program entails a personal transformation that is linked to the transformation of society. So for much of our journey the question for me was, if we aim to end violence against women and girls, what will our “social program” be? What do we take from what we inherit, what do we leave behind? What is our strategy, at scale—both in how many people we touch, but also in the long, long run?

I ran into Grace Lee Boggs again soon after my return to the states. Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis were keynotes at a conference and sat down together to have a heart-to-heart style discussion about our state of affairs. “This is a time for us to imagine a new way of life,” Boggs reflected. “It is time for us to change our stance from ‘protest organizing’ and do ‘visionary organizing’.”

Towards the end of our journey, we discussed what it would mean to organize “1000 Beloved Communities” as nodes of affect, stars on our constellation of possibilities. I believe this is a step in the right direction for our movement. To me, this framework has the potential to link us together in our different positions in the work (legal, services, advocacy, youth organizing), to the communities which hold us together, aligned towards a similar vision. It also has the potential to organize folks, coupled with a “program” with a particular vision of our world, which I believe we need.

Now to put some teeth to this concept…(stay tuned).

Art by lizar_tistry