Like everyone, since November I’ve been looking to strike the right balance between staying informed and active and staying focused and sane. I tell students to find an issue they care about and really focus on it: it doesn’t matter if it’s “the most important” necessarily but if it’s one they have a community or personal connection to and can find the right organization/community to plug into, that will be the most effective.
Of course, like most teachers, I’m terrible at taking my own advice, so I’ve been focusing not on one but on three main areas, in my writing and teaching and small bits of activism, and I’m going to try to catalogue some of the most useful writing I’ve found to think about where we are in these struggles.
My own writing has been focused on this area in the last few years, and was particularly glad that, in tuned with the Women’s March and women’s strike, there were more and more pieces that saw feminism in the context of social movements: as something that has a history, strategies, tactics, and goals, not as something people “are” or “aren’t.” Along with the great social movement scholar Mark Engler, I wrote my contribution to this here, looking at the strategies of 70s feminism that created a whirlwind for mass social change and how they might be replicated today.
Although written several years ago, this piece by a nursing home worker was the most powerful reflection on the women’s strike for me. It reminded me of the most vital work of the period I’ve been writing about: fearless about describing the dehumanizing powers of injustice, drawing on both personal experience and analysis. During the 70s, feminists talked a lot about finding names for things that had been previously described as just life: names like “Sexual harassment” and “domestic violence.” Today, those who come up with feminism as part of the air have terms like “care work” and “second shift” at hand, but sometimes we don’t square the circle back to what these terms feel like day in day out. This piece brings that home in a devastating way.
Contra the click-bait headlines, in my experience having been pregnant and now being a mother have not made me an ounce less radical or pro-choice. (It made me more anti-capitalst for sure, but that’s a story for another day.) What it did do is make me think different about the way I “consume” stories about the pain of others, and it made me a ton more sympathetic to people who need to shut things out for their well-being. Another example of a piece that’s personal without losing an ounce of its analytical and political force, this piece by Dani McClain, an invaluable reporter on Black Lives Matter among other things, takes on the disparities in outcomes for Black mothers and their babies, with a particular eye to how the stress caused by discrimination plays a role. A great piece on a neglected and crucial issue.
I’ve been enjoying Sarah Jaffe’s interviews for the resistance a great deal. So many “what we should do” pieces take place on a level of polemic and abstraction don’t feel useful to anyone who’s tried to do any hands-on organizing, no matter how modest. In trying to plug into and understand the sanctuary movement through my work at a college with a huge immigrant population, this interview with Aly Wane of BAJI gave me one of the strongest senses of history of how we got here through the Obama years and where to go.
One challenge of understanding the sanctuary issue is to understand the real difference of policies from place to place without letting relatively progressive cities with official sanctuary policies off the hook for how policing still feeds the deportation machine. In the case of NYC, this piece by Jarret Murphy gave the fullest overview and outline of who controls what levers I’ve seen.
Someone I love dearly once told me that, based on his experience, you shouldn’t get active on Palestine unless you want it to be the only thing you do. Since I’m as bad at taking loved one’s advice as I am taking my own, since the Gaza assault of 2014, which I couldn’t look away from, I’m done my best as an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace. I don’t consider myself and expert and so don’t write about this much, but I’ve been trying to read more and encourage other folks to be more vocal. In my experience, it hasn’t been true that any speaking out on the issue instantly puts a target on your back, but I know that’s different for people with different levels of visibility. Right now, with Trump’s soul mate Bibi feeling more emboldened than ever, there’s as always, a danger of Palestine getting lost in the shuffle.
I sometimes call Brant Rosen, a crucial figure in making space for a non-Zionist Judaism, my “in-spirit” rabbi. This piece on the Right of Return and why so many Jews resist it so forcefully has been especially clarifying.
Finally, continuing the theme of personal pieces that are intellectually powerful. (I wish there was a way to state this that didn’t sound like it was surprising that these things might go together, but it’s also the case that a lot of internet writing that claims powerful space for the personal fails to do this, but that’s also a post for another day.) My NYC-JVP comrade Asaf Calderon has a piece in Haaretz about what it’s like to have a family member you never met who participated in the atrocities that founded Israel: “Remember Mordechai, because genocide has a face. Humans commit massacres, not demons. Remember his family, my family, and the love and loss of his mother, because grief knows no judgment. Remember his victims, those whose names we know and those that we will never know. Remember the Nakba.May he rest in peace, and may we all find peace, when his victims’ relatives are allowed return, reparations and justice.”