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Let’s Get Free!: Radicalizing Pro-Feminist Education for Men

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

The following speech was originally given at the Stop Porn Culture Conference at Wheelock College, Boston, in July 2013.

Hello everyone, my name is Kourtney Mitchell and I am a political activist and a member of the group Deep Green Resistance. We are a radical organization dedicated to social, political and environmental justice. As an organization we ally ourselves with indigenous communities, women, people of color and the poor. Our aim is to stop the destruction of the planet and the oppression of people and animals.

We are a relatively new organization just a couple of years old but we are growing and have numerous chapters with hundreds of activists around the world who are all dedicated to stopping the genocide of the planet.

So, I’ll offer just a brief background on my experience as a man with pro-feminist activism and educating men. I attended university and it was there that I first received academic and activist training in feminism and anti-violence through the peer education program on campus.

The peer education program consists of graduate students, faculty, and staff who train undergraduate volunteers. The training includes education about the widespread violence that women face and volunteers learn to give presentations to peers on rape, sexual assault, relationship violence, and feminism.

In turn, peers would then join our organizing efforts and events. This was the most profoundly significant and life changing time for me. To travel around the country raising awareness of violence against women, facilitating workshops, speak-outs, and protests was fulfilling, not to mention meaningful. The training threw me into another world, one in which violence and misogyny could no longer be ignored. Our advisors did a really comprehensive job of giving us an adequate scope of the problem, and creating a sense of urgency about these issues.

They helped facilitate the creation of a student culture based on the belief that it is possible to end violence against women, and knowing that possibility helped galvanize us to take action. Many of us went on to make this our life’s work.

My primary role in the campus activist community was recruiting and teaching men about pro-feminism and anti-violence. I helped lead the male ally program, which included a weekly discussion group, activism in the community, pro-feminist art and performance, and collaborations with other similar programs around the country.

I remember vividly the anxiety of pouring over every detail of presentations I would be giving to men, worrying if the way I presented concepts was too complicated or if men would shut down for the rest of the talk if I said something too complicated. I left some events feeling like no one was reachable, but I also walked away feeling really good about the successes which were accomplished.

Many men joined our organizations and became quite active – some because they just felt it was the right thing to do, but many more because of personal experiences and the experiences of their loved ones. Several men randomly wandered into our office and left planning to attend the next ally meeting, and sure enough did continue coming. This was just one of the many things that kept me optimistic about bringing more men to pro-feminist ideas and activism.

Unfortunately, the campus activist community was largely liberal and very much influenced by queer theory. Pornography was widely accepted, and a real revolution against the patriarchal order was more joked about than seriously considered. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the radical feminist perspective that I began to see the flaws of the liberal approach to pro-feminist education.

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Is Professional Activism Getting in the Way of Real Change?

By Hénia Belalia / Deep Roots United Front

By Hénia Belalia / Deep Roots United Front

It’s disconcerting to find so few faces in the prominent ranks of the environmental movement that reflect the realities and experiences of those bearing the brunt of climate collapse. Estimates show that since 1990 more than 90% of natural disasters have occurred in poor countries and that, globally, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by air, soil and water pollution. Numbers also demonstrate that low-income households are hit the hardest by disasters, due to factors such as poor infrastructure and economic instability.

Yet those making strategic decisions are sitting in air-conditioned board rooms, hoping their conversations will pave the way for profound systemic change. Those most impacted by socioeconomic ills and environmental degradation are rarely present at those tables. This disconnect is quite alarming. Those of us frustrated with this scenario have turned to a deeper analysis and framework over the last decade—that of climate justice. Defining climate justice is a work in progress; honoring and integrating it are lifelong struggles.

To tackle the root (read: radical) causes of the climate crisis, we must first acknowledge that environmental degradation exacerbates existing economic, racial and social injustices—an interconnectedness that should define our analysis and actions. To truly win, land and justice defenders must recognize overlapping systems of oppression within this capitalist structure, and take strategic cues from the communities most impacted by colonization, militarism and poverty. That means building movements across issues and beyond divides based on race, class and gender, while elevating the voices that have been historically marginalized: indigenous peoples, communities of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the low-income population. To do so will take a profound decolonization of minds and professional institutions.

For many in this country, resistance isn’t a choice—it’s not fashionable—it’s plain survival.

Walking through the streets of northern Philadelphia, my heart sinks. The rundown streets of a forgotten city, its gifts and peoples deemed disposable by the state’s corporate and governmental elites. Empty lots, dozens of schools shut down, despairingly long waiting-lists for access to public education, while across the invisible divide, bright lights shine and champagne glasses clink, unperturbed.

In the Far Rockaways of New York City, I come across wounds still bleeding, left open to the winds. Memories of Hurricane Sandy lie in the debris lining the sidewalks, the closed-down businesses and uneven pavements, the local hospital on the brink of closure. The mass incarcerations of our brothers, fathers, lovers of color, stuck in vicious cycles of debt, drugs and street violence, the straight shot from a poor home to a gray prison cell. The overflowing detention centers, filled with terrified youth ripped from their families, many of them waiting to be deported to countries they haven’t set foot in since early childhood. Indigenous nations, whose land we’re standing on, surviving 500 years of cultural and ethnic genocide, in the form of boarding schools, involuntary sterilization of their women, and broken treaties.

These are the unsung faces of the resistance. The warriors whose lived experiences and very survival should not only drive the direction of our movements, but will inevitably determine the success of our struggle for collective liberation.

Instead, within the existing mainstream culture, while organizing has shifted to career-based models, anti-oppression work has become fashionable, and even worse, fundable. Through trainings, some may have learned the politically correct language to use, but much of the “anti-oppression” process has remained superficial, void of a real consideration for intersections of race, class and gender. This has resulted in a few token organizers of color hired into the ranks of respectable positions in big non-governmental organizations, with an unspoken expectation that they will be speaking for other brothers and sisters of color. Meanwhile, for those coming from low-income households or without a college education, the doors of opportunity within the environmental and climate movement are almost always out of reach.

For a person once seduced by an organizing career and its false promises of liberation, it was a rude awakening. As a brown migrant woman, often tokenized as the “good kind of Arab,” if I wanted a meaningful voice in this movement, I was going to have to take up space for myself, much like many had done before me. That also meant taking responsibility for my own layers of privilege, like my college education and access to resources, that most in my family aren’t privy to.

The professionalization of change-making has created a non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) which hinders rather than promotes liberationist movements. At Power Shift 2011, a national climate conference bringing together thousands of youth, there was a literal physical divide between the workshop spaces for the college students (mostly white middle-class) and the front-line communities (low-income, mostly youth of color). Since they were assigned different training tracks and curriculum, one of the only overlaps was during keynote speeches.

This year, at the same conference, several delegations of marginalized youth (Lakota youth from the Pine Ridge reservation, Dream Defenders from Florida, and impacted Gulf Coast communities from TEJAS) were promised funds for food and transportation that were either never or only partially delivered. These practices are counter-productive to social change, as they perpetuate the very systemic oppression we’re fighting.

Meanwhile, NGOs are competing for membership and campaign victories, racing for measurable results that will prove to their funders that they deserve yet more money. In a nine-year period, big greens received over $10 billion in funding, with only 15% of grants (between 2007-2009) allotted to marginalized communities. This discrepancy is appalling, especially given the fact that more money means more institutional costs and infrastructure, which often translates to compromises and watered-down actions. This top-down funding strategy ignores the history of resistance—that large-scale social change stems from the grassroots and a sturdy leadership from the oppressed peoples who have a vested interest in fighting for freedom.

It’s hard to imagine a popular uprising being initiated by those relying on the comforts of paychecks and organizational stability, so those voices shouldn’t dominate the narrative. Often it’s professional activists heard shouting into megaphones, calling for escalation and taking it to the streets. As economies crash, natural disasters multiply, and countries are torn apart by war, that call rings true.

But what happens when an organization like MoveOn.org adopts Occupy’s grassroots message for the purpose of publicizing nationwide direct action trainings, but discourages trainers from promoting civil disobedience because of their organizational politics? Or when the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund work with the fossil-fuel industry, the latter quite satisfied to buy them out and define their own opposition in the process? Or when 350.org calls for escalation in the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, fundraise from other individuals’ bold actions in one of their email asks, but when those front-line activists face potential felony charges, leave them unsupported due to lack of organizational foresight and adequate infrastructure? These examples show a disconnect and an inability to build genuine relationships with those on the ground.

With budgets and voices so loud, the professionals’ messages overshadow the call for uprisings coming from the trenches. Though those cries may not be amplified by megaphones or on the front pages of websites, they can be heard rumbling through the neighborhoods, detention centers, prisons, native reservations, homeless shelters, and broken-down apartment buildings.

So the question is, how will the mainstream respond when front-line communities take to the streets, when communities of color reclaim our power and stand our ground? Will the movement be ready and willing to demonstrate intentional and genuine solidarity?

With anti-oppression on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days, it is critical to remind ourselves that working with those who’ve been historically oppressed is not about atonement of guilt, stroking of egos, or moving personal agendas forward.

Andrea Smith refers to this in a recent piece, as an “entire ally industrial complex (that) has developed around the professional confession of privilege.” This practice of atonement perpetuates power imbalances by re-centralizing the voices and experiences of those carrying historical privilege, this time elevating them to the role of righteous confessors. This “anti-oppression” work Smith writes about is missing the mark entirely.

From Naomi Klein to Van Jones, from organizers of the ’99 WTO protest to blockaders of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas, a similar message resonates: the non-profit industrial complex needs to deepen its class analysis, tackle white supremacy within its own institutions, and dump the colonialist “savior” syndrome. Professional activists must challenge institutionalized and structural privilege within their own organizations, in terms of air time, resources, influence, and how much space they take up.

What can professional activists do to decolonize the mainstream movement? Make financial resources available to those communities that need it most, rather than filling the bank accounts of multi-million-dollar organizations. Open up seats at the decision-making table for the freedom fighters on the front lines, rather than inviting them for the photo op once all the strategy has been laid out. Get out of the way when those whose stories must be told are speaking up, rather than writing up studies about their experience. Take the time to learn and practice genuine allyship that doesn’t translate to condescending tokenism.

To reflect integrity, this process cannot be driven by the need for personal and organizational recognition. Challenging our own internalized -isms is a constant work in progress, one that can take a lifetime. From the jungles of Mexico, the Zapatistas wisely remind us of the longevity of this process, that we must walk on asking questions—”preguntando caminamos.”

To those of you on the front lines, to the brothers and sisters of color wearing ancestors in our flesh, carrying in our bodies the historical traumas of a system designed to break our spirits and exterminate us, it is a testament to our resilience that we’re still here, that we’ve survived over time. To those who still wonder when the time for a radical shift will come, it has. Our day-to-day reality won’t be getting scary somewhere down the road, in some distant future—there’s a war being waged against our communities right now!

In this day of climate crises and economic collapse, of lingering white supremacy and patriarchy, the struggle is as much about resistance as it is about community survival programs, as much about taking down the fossil fuel industry as decolonizing our own minds. This moment calls upon us to get real about what that will take from us, what the responsibilities entail, and what real solidarity looks like.

If this movement is serious about winning and shifting our current paradigm, we are going to have to give up some comforts and get out of the way when the times call for it.

Hénia Belalia is on the National Coordinating Committee of Deep Roots United Front, and the former director of Peaceful Uprising. She identifies as a climate justice defender, theatre director and day dreamer of collective liberation. Her work is rooted in a constantly evolving practice of allyship to frontlines of struggle, with a focus on the intersections of environmental and social justice. 

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Originally posted by AlterNet.

Our Experiences Matter: On White Privilege and Backlash

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

As a radical black male living in the most hegemonic culture to ever exist, I consistently find myself keenly aware of instances in daily life to recognize and critique white supremacy. I have experienced firsthand this culture’s systemic racism. From the racist and sexist police department which harassed and conspired against my mother while she worked for them, to the fairly routine instances of micro-aggressions, racial profiling and predatory business practices all people of color endure in this culture, I have a personal relationship with oppression informing my analysis of racism. So when whites accuse people of color of being unable to let go of the past, they are missing some critical considerations.

Many whites have a difficult time accepting any attempt to redistribute wealth and resources to historically oppressed classes because they fail to see the reality of life as a person of color in this society. And when our stories are silenced, the dominant narrative of this culture can proliferate.

So I want to speak directly to whites who honestly believe society is post-racial and that they are being oppressed. I want you to listen and try to understand if you can.

‎One of white supremacy’s more insidious aspects is that it has perfected the art of double-speak. While it appears you are saying society is post-racial and we are all equal now, and therefore any redistribution of resources to historically oppressed classes is reverse racism, what you are really saying is the comfort and safety which was a result of a historically privileged position in society as leech members of a parasitic class of people is being challenged, and that makes you uncomfortable.

You want to know what I mean with that statement. Dominant classes of people are parasites, because they feed on the oppression of others. Whether or not you realize it, if you are a member of a dominant class, you are benefiting from the oppression of another class.

As a man, I benefit from patriarchy and misogyny. Members of my class of people are leeches, and that makes me a leech as well. It is my responsibility as an aspiring male ally to women to constantly critique my own participation in this culture and to do whatever I can to deconstruct the sexist and misogynistic tendencies I possess from this culture’s indoctrination. That is the minimal task of an ally, and the same applies to whites who wish to ally with people of color to combat racism. You must first admit your complicity in it.

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Beautiful Justice: Entitled Defeat

By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin

By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin

We’ll need a miracle to save the world, and the only miracle we’re going to get is us. Right now, we—as in life on this planet we—are losing. That nobody wants to say this out loud doesn’t change its truth: we are losing, and badly.

For all the tireless marching, writing, petitioning, film-making, and purification of our lifestyles, how much destruction has actually—in the real world, not just our hearts and minds—been stopped?

We are losing. No one wants to say this out loud. Every impassioned conversation, book, and documentary film seems to follow the same wishful script: things are bad—okay, things are really bad—and while that’s certainly not good, it doesn’t change the fact that we are actually winning, that our individual actions are making a difference, that hearts and minds are changing, that we’re on the cusp of a great turning, that sustainability is upon us. All this whether the greedy or ignorant like it or not.

With our hands up in the air, who will do the work to make sure this future turns to reality? It’s easy to be optimistic in the cradle of privilege. It’s easier to look out the window and see winds of change when that window isn’t found in a sweatshop or prison complex. Those who feel firsthand the destruction of life—of democracy, community, freedom, landbase, and bodily integrity—do not have this luxury; they cannot pretend justice is now, or will be, prevailing when every day is testament of the opposite.

Many on the Left would call this cynicism. They would say it reflects a negative attitude. They would say negative attitudes don’t get us anywhere. They fail to mention what will.

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