I wrote this in the middle of the night after kind of a rough day. Fair warning for rambles, rants, and cursing.
There is no major progress that happens in a straight line. I suppose if we really consider histories nothing really does. And I suppose the very language of “progress” assumes a sort of linearity and end destination. But it’s what I have right now. I’m thinking about non-linear processes both in larger senses of social movements and my own personal history. Timelines are often too reductive and erase the complexities in which we live them.
For social justice – this means having serious conversations about compromise. We can’t avoid it. I think that if we as activists accept that it’s a reality we’ll be much more conscious of how, when, and what we already compromise in our work. And we can find ways to do so without harming or devaluing other communities or issues. At some point in our lives and work, we have to accept that we can’t work on everything at once. Not everything can be everyone’s highest priority. That can be painful to grapple with, or certainly has been for me. But trying to impose centralized goals or value systems doesn’t leave much room for coalitional work or solidarity with other communities that we might not fully agree with.
Social justice isn’t going to happen off of one giant collective to-do list. We don’t have a diagram for achieving all of our goals. Because there will never be a point where everyone in the movements we align ourselves with agrees on what the goals should be, let alone what the steps are. And that’s ok. I firmly believe in decentralized movements with a multiplicity of tactics, goals, and beliefs. But that dedication to non-linear and non-hierarchal organizing includes a lot of discomfort and a lot of uncertainty. It’s fucking hard.
For me personally, accepting non-linear progress in my life has mostly centered around examining my recovery from this latest depressive episode and continual management of my mental health. I knew from the beginning it was going to be perpetual work. I knew that there would be ups and downs, and that some days would be far harder than others. But it’s much harder to live than to understand theoretically. Bad days can feel like failures. And a bad couple of days can feel like an unstoppable regression. But it’s all part of the fucking process of living and living with mental and emotional struggles. Did I mention it’s fucking hard?
I know all of this rationally. But it’s a struggle for me to accept. I want to fit my life and our struggles into narratives. I want clear analysis and understanding to be enough. I want to have a map of where this is all going.
On good days I take comfort in the fact that we are open to wider possibilities than we would be if those constrictions were a reality. I can see opportunities for imagination and creativity for resistance and subversive actions. I feel good that my self-care by definition will be uniquely suited to my needs and desires. I am optimistic that while I’m working within the confines of a fucked up system and dysfunctional thought processes, I can do work to change those conditions a little bit for the better. And the future will bring new possibilities that are literally impossible to comprehend under our current structures of thought. Knowing that all my current planning and even thought processes will be totally irrelevant someday can fill me with hope and joy.
But some days it’s harder. Some days I don’t know how the fuck to even start addressing all the shit in the world. Some days social justice is a total bummer. We can’t even get through agendas at meetings. We’re working with little or no resources. And when we can’t even get along with each other (not airing personal shit – just happens to be true of every social movement like, ever). That’s not even starting on the internalized oppressions and harmful structures we recreate within our own movements.
And some days I can’t see how my life is going to change. I think about the prospect of being on medication for life and am overwhelmed. I look at my family history and see all the fucked up genes I would be passing on to my hypothetical children that I don’t even want. I get depressed about being depressed. And my only consolation is that I’m less depressed than I was. When I’m feeling cynical that isn’t much to hold on to.
None of this is new to my thinking either. Over one summer several years ago I thought I had figured out the secret to saving the world, but all I could remember was that it had something to do with circles.
I still don’t know what I meant by that.
So that’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing better than I was. I think movements for human rights / liberation / social justice / revolution have made things arguably better in a lot of situations than they were 50 years ago. I know that I’ve seen significant changes within my own lifetime. And I know that this will continue. I will have good days and bad days. Our movements will have ups and downs. We will all continue to succeed and fail in various cycles.
I just have to keep believing that while we’re collectively messy, we’re pushing in good directions.
1To be honest, I subscribe to the Doctor Who theory of non-linear time as well, though practically it doesn’t make much sense to apply to day-to-day situations.BACK
2I don’t even know the goddamn language for where my own experience fits. Mentally ill? Emotionally disordered? Neuroatypical? Crazybrained?BACK