[What follows are a series of theses co-authored by Alex Hundert and I for a workshop that we co-facilitated at the Cahoots Festival on June 10, 2017.]
1. Fleeing one’s identity as an oppressor or any subcategory of that identity, is a misplaced focus and an impossible task –one that does little to change the nature of one’s “identity,” alter the dynamics of oppression, or create liberatory conditions for people experiencing oppression.
2. Most of the modes of flight deployed by oppressors are superficial – they permit oppressors to feel better about themselves without ceasing to be beneficiaries of oppression and, for the most part, without ceasing to be active participants therein or doing anything to change the dynamics of oppression (in fact, “moves to innocence,” including those of the Christian type, play into broader cultural and societal problems that perpetuate oppressive relationships and structures).
3. Furthermore, most of the common modes of flight require a base level of wealth, free time, and/or privilege in order to be enacted and are inaccessible to the bulk of people who are experiencing oppression (here, we desire to problematize notions and various incarnations of “lifestyle activism”).
4. Instead of prioritizing our personal flight from complicity, we should prioritize the radical transformation of the relationship between the oppressed and dominant demographics, paying especial attention to structures that favour the dominant over against the oppressed (sometimes, however, the oppressed do not want to transform this relationship by engaging in it; instead, they seek to transform the relationship by fleeing from it altogether; and so, again, instead of prioritizing our personal flight from complicity, we should prioritize assisting the oppressed in fleeing from institutions and parties that oppress them).
5. Ultimately, one’s identity as demographically part of dynamics of oppression is not something from which a person can flee (not even through a grandiose action like moving back to Europe), but even a member of an oppressing demographic can act “treasonously” as an accomplice of people experiencing oppression
1. Instead of seeking to flee from our rootedness with oppressors and among oppressive cultures, in order to be acknowledged by others or to see ourselves as being on the right side, it is worth considering how we are uniquely situated to weaken, harm, expose, reform or destroy the oppressive institutions or structures of which we are a part or to which we have access.
2. There are three basic categories of tactics that can be deployed by people engaging in a strategy of “infiltration.”
a) sabotage or “monkey wrenching” (physically disrupting a corporation or institution’s ability to carry out their work or production);
b) subterfuge (undermining work or structures or communications within a corporation or institution through various forms of deceit and dishonesty);
c) “whistleblowing” and other forms of espionage (spying, leaking confidential information to sources that are not supposed to have access to that information, etc.).
3. Infiltration is costly – but costliness is often, but not always, a sign that this is a tactic that the State or other institutions fear and so they attack it vigourously. It is costly in various ways: (a) it clashes with most inherited moral codes, and even with moral codes adopted by more “radical” Christians, and so forces a revaluation of values; and (b) appearing to be a willful member of an oppressive institution can isolate you and may result in you being condemned by people struggling against oppression, while getting outed will make you vulnerable to attacks from people invested in perpetuating oppression.
Criminality and Non/violence
1. The dominant Christian narratives about non/violence are overly dependent on a conflation of religious-moral notions of good/evil with the political constructs of legal/illegal.
2. There is no such thing as “nonviolence.”
a) Structural violence;
b) emotional and psychological violence;
d) the role of power in determining moral subjectivity.
3. So-called “nonviolent action” and pacifist strategies are, in many cases, neither plausible nor effective in any meaningful way. Outside of “the West,” effective non-militant tactics are often impossible or suicidal—many countries around the world use live fire ammunition, torture and indefinite detention on even the most peaceful of protesters.
4. To properly situate the pursuit of peace (Shalom, as opposed to nonviolence), we must understand that the question is not, “how can I be less violent?” but “how can I contribute to creating conditions of less violence?” And sometimes personal acts of direct physical violence, often deployed in self defence, are a very effective (or the only effective) means of creating conditions of less violence.
5. Direct physical violence of this sort is treated as a criminal act but actions defined by the State as “nonviolent” can still be criminalized. Sometimes the State will also go out of its way to define an act of resistance or civil disobedience as “violent” in order to discredit the cause and punish the actors (it is important not to fall for this form of criminalization, often used as a divide and conquer tactic to marginalize some of the most effective and/or marginalized actors in our movements and communities).
6. Breaking out of the binary mold of violence/nonviolence and moving towards becoming “accomplices” with people experiencing oppression can be risky and sometimes outcomes are difficult to predict. However, if we actually wish to be effective allies, accomplices, or otherwise solidarity oriented agents of social change, we must find ways to overcome fear, and to live with the consequences of challenging dominant and oppressive structures, institutions and individuals.
7. It is necessary to recognize that members of oppressed communities are the ones who face the greatest risk of backlash or “collateral damage” when actions are taken – and this is just as true of so-called “nonviolent” actions as of “violent” actions. Although those who act are not to blame for the actions of the Police, the State, or other repressive agents, those who act must think seriously about what might come next. This principle does not, however, justify inaction or permit the surrender of one’s self as a responsible agent.
1. We must be clear about our goals and what standards we use – avoiding imprecise moralizing – to evaluate the strategies and tactics we and others deploy in order to try and attain those goals (example: when trying to support X community’s struggle to achieve Y, one should use as little violence as possible in participating in strategy Z as proposed by X to achieve Y).
Loved the workshop. So grateful for the conversation you and Alex hosted and your openness to discussion without belittling anyone or their ideas.