By Kristian Kim
Our sense of uncertainty about the future is compounded by a sense of uncertainty about our own courses of action. And we can tackle at least one of those things. To that end, let’s move away from universalizing and abstraction: away from “what is to be done” to “what are we – you and me – going to do:” grounding ourselves in the fact that oppression is not theoretical. Violence is not abstract; it is intimate, visceral and material. And the ways in which we resist that violence need to likewise be intimate, visceral and material.
For those of us at universities, it’s especially critical to think about this, given that we often conceptualize our power in the form of abstraction. Freedom and power are given to us in the form of imperial mobility: the ability to go where and when we please and to do what we want to whomever we choose. And among other more sinister things, this lends itself to rootlessness: this sense of “shit, there’s so much to be done, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.” So, let’s move away from that abstraction towards a critical study of what our position, specifically within this university, both empowers us to do and therefore makes us responsible for doing.
Let’s start with the fact that we here at the university are not sitting on salvation in the form of theses and theories and capstone projects. How ridiculous is it that the knowledge and the resources to which we have access – which we might like to think of as inherently revolutionary – are directly derived, and often violently extracted, from the people who are now denied access to them. And these are the most precarious people: the people who are going to be the most vulnerable under Trump, those who work two or three jobs and take on massive debts so that their children can go learn “revolutionary theories” that function to alienate them further from their families and communities.
Nothing is inherently revolutionary. Anything that does not engage people’s material needs in the service of radically transforming the world they inhabit is not revolutionary. Our task is to take the abstract knowledge that we have, and weaponize it. Because sitting here, in libraries and archives, it has no transformative value. Our job is to steal it – from academia, from jargon, from the confines of these halls literally named after colonizers – to take everything we have access to here, and weaponize it in the service of those we love.
The university is an imperial institution. It is fundamentally counterrevolutionary. And as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney contend: that means that the only ethical relationship to this university is one of theft.[i] And that doesn’t necessarily mean one of opposition. It is our job to study and understand what we, specifically, are positioned within this counterrevolutionary institution to do. To ask: what are the resources, what are the connections, what are the kinds of access – to mobility and security and time – that I have here, and how might I act as a leak, a channel, a bridge to my community, and how might I transform these things to speak directly to their visceral, material needs.
Because resistance is fundamentally a work of deep affirmation. Whether it’s creation, whether it’s reaction, whether it looks like free breakfast programs or armed self-defense, resistance is the work of affirming our collective rights to self-determination, to enjoying the fruits of our own labor, to avoiding premature death at the hands of the police; it’s affirming our rights to health, to dignity, to the sanctity of our own bodies, to maintaining familial bonds across arbitrary national borders…! Resistance needs always to emerge out of affirmation for our deservingness of these things.
And everything we’re feeling right now: the fear, the pain, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the sadness, they serve the purpose of illuminating for us those needs. And so part of the work we need to do is learn to be guided by those feelings in ourselves and in each other, and through them trace and map the violence that produces them. So that we can develop the capacity to collectively imagine and then create a world that is responsive to those deep, material, visceral, intimate needs that are currently not being met.
And we are not discovering fire here. To paraphrase Dylan Rodríguez: there is so much beautifully-imagined, well-thought-out, wildly creative work that has been going on for years, both inside and outside of the US.[ii] Much of it done to prefigure the world people desire: in the construction of mutual aid networks, in building functioning alternatives to the police and to unaffordable healthcare, in creating access to childcare, to healthy food, to housing, to land rights… People have long been building what they need, to replace what does not serve them. And we have so much to draw from as we develop and expand our own capacities to desire and imagine and actually create a more livable world.
Nikhil Singh recently described Republican Congressional action as “the expansion of pathways to premature death.”[iii] And I think that’s a really useful descriptor, in that it reminds us that what we now face is, yes, terrifying expansion, frightening acceleration – but we are not strangers to this violence. This violence is not strange, and neither is resistance to it. We are not starting from square one, and we are not alone. And in that is rooted my hope.
Let’s think of hope less as a kind of optimism, and more as a kind of humility. Joy James, a radical Black intellectual, locates hope in what she calls “comprehension of the unity of the oppressed.”[iv] This unity exceeds the unbearably painful here and now, and acknowledges the struggles, the resilience, the resistance, the existence of all those who precede us and exceed us and will proceed us. We are not alone.
And now is the time to double down. Now is not the time for Cal-exit, for moving to Canada, for escape – especially for those of us with the latitude for escape, because that means we also have access to power and leverage that those who cannot escape do not. Now is the time to root down and critically examine what we have the power and therefore the responsibility to do. To be guided by everything that we’re feeling, and through it to trace and to name visceral violence, and then to build resistance that affirms our collective rights to have our deepest needs met. And, standing on the shoulders of giants, to think and dream and build towards a world that we actually want to inhabit.
About the author: Kristian Kim is an undergraduate studying Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley with tongue-firmly-in-cheek.
The cover image is of the Black Panthers’ People’s Free Food Program, and is from the Advocate.
[i] Moten, Fred and Stefano Harney. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013. – http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf
[ii] Rodríguez, Dylan, “The Pitfalls of (White) Liberal Panic,” Abolition Journal, November 15, 2016 https://abolitionjournal.org/the-pitfalls-of-white-liberal-panic/
[iii] Singh, Nikhil. Facebook post, January 19, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/nikhilpalsingh/posts/10209803804586430?pnref=story
[iv] “’Concerning Violence’: Frantz Fanon’s Rebel Intellectual in Search of a Black Cyborg.” South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 112, no. 1, 2013, pp. 57-70.