Ok, what now? This is the question that keeps returning after each unwanted change to the city. Where do we go from here? The problem calls upon us to reassess after every seeming defeat. The most current being the insidious backdoor dealings and eventual selling of San Jose land to the everpresent neoliberal godsend, Google. The passionate refusal and organizing around these dealings proved that there are many of us bubbling beneath, prepared or preparing to spill over. Many of us see how these structural acts of violence allow small decisions to yield considerable side-effects or possibly intended functional effects. We lost this one, but not without a fight, and that in itself is a victory!
Let's follow their words when they say there will be housing and they say there will be jobs. They say Google has been given no tax breaks in this recent deal, which is different from others. Let’s watch closely and see where this money goes. We want our humanity, we want to be heard, and we want it now. Ignorance in the face of human rights violations has been present at every juncture of history, but that did not mean truth and reason never stood a chance. If history has shown us anything, it is that change happens, sometimes at a glacial pace, but it happens. Amiri Baraka said, “what betrays revolution, is the need for revolution” and in this, I see that every anchoring moment of resistance, at every juncture and act, no matter how small, becomes a save point, never a wasted endeavor, but something that we can learn from.
Those currently in power require total moral compartmentalization to do what they do. Our job is to disallow this willful moral blindness, and one of the hardest things we must face is retaining a fundamental belief in humanity’s ability to care or change. To be an optimist in this often suffocating atmosphere requires real strength, love, and faith. When those in power claim to stand for human rights, our task is to hold them accountable to that and recognize that many of the things we demand are rights, not privileges. We must challenge the language around efforts. No longer speak in just lengthy theory, but create real praxis as a solution. We have to disable the cuffed feelings, resist the urge to wave the white flag, thinking it could be worse as we compare our struggles to others. What good is success if it’s only for the individual? It could be worse this is true. But it could also be better. We are not free unless everyone is free.
In stepping back into the nonprofit sector, I’ve noticed the corners we are pushed into as direct service providers. Having to follow protocol closely; protocols that can be inattentive to the actual needs of people in crisis: assistance in a timely manner. We find ourselves having to navigate the bureaucracy, play the game and say the right words to get those grant proposals approved. It makes me dizzy to see how much this is yet another industry, this time centered around the lives of those in need, lives that tend to reflect the lives of people close to us who carry similar traumas. I’ve noticed that these traumas are what have pushed many direct service providers to get into this work in the first place. At the intersection of helping and business, we know we have to abide by the guidelines, and I remind myself that although it is not my ideal vision of a better world, I work within a larger system that is deemed legitimate and trusted with resources to create change. In my own attempt to come to terms with this, I have committed myself to do the most I can within my role to be in favor of my clients. If I can process someone’s paperwork as fast as I can for it to get to the next step, pick up a client from where they’re at so we can pick up a rental application, I’ll do it. I also remind myself that new visions are necessary, that I want to live in a world where we can create change that is not dependent on the state.
While I am glad to be in direct service, the answers to homelessness do not merely lie in housing subsidies; the solution to interpersonal and intimate violence does not only lie in legal prosecution. I believe we need holistic approaches that stray from systemic profit. I go in circles in my head because I’ll be honest, I don’t know what that looks like exactly. But I know I must keep my imagination alive to be able to envision an approach outside of what is currently available. SoI return to my work desk with a sense of urgency that is fueled by my belief in a new world in which we are liberated. I let this lead my steps and direct my interactions with people I work with in hopes that small ripples can create waves.
Solidarity begins with people,
and that is where our power lies.
The flow of information is often exhausting, it can keep you glued to a sense of constant disaffection thinking this is where I live now I guess, drowning in anger and frustration. This fear of happiness, the hype centered around being angry, around always tearing things down leaves out the critical part: the building up we do, and our potential of it. We become so focused on destruction that it bleeds into how we approach one another, in often destructive ways. Solidarity begins with people, and that is where our power lies. Barbara Ransby remarked at a 2017 Socialism conference panel, “Never hesitate to love your people, and the people who struggle alongside you, but also never be afraid to critique and struggle with those you love.” The seasons of love are eternal, they pass onward forever, and since physics tells us present, past, and future all exist simultaneously, it’s a good bet to say it’s always surrounding us. Fear and anger live in reactionary bursts, it's good for quick action. We cannot deny anger and the role it has played in our survival, but it is a cancer that eats at the host, this is where so many see burn out.
In her book, "Regarding the Pain of Others" Susan Sontag said, "Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing 'we' can do -- but who is that 'we?’ -- and nothing 'they' can do either -- and who are 'they' -- then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic." Anger can no longer be the motivator. What we manifest from anger can breed fear or inaction. Our motivation must come from the love of one another, social equity and democratization of that which we are a part of. Organizing is not to tear down others, it is to build up. The love for the people, for the movements, for the cooperation reminds us we are here on earth to learn, not to be taught a lesson. When we are conscious that each of us is infinitely complex and fight the urge to approach others in a reductive manner, we can remember we are fighting a system and not its tools.
You are unhappy with what is being done, and you hunger for transparency and social equity, so let’s call you what you are, a revolutionary. To be a revolutionary takes an understanding of people who are essentially struggling along with you, but who may not be educated or are receiving misinformation. Most media sources would lead you to believe that daily there are many visceral, physical altercations between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ The weird trend of alt-right or fence walking racists that I would call distractions, at best. I do believe their rhetoric is atrocious and wormlike in the ways it slithers into the minds of people via memes and use of social networks, it is threatening because it is a far too similar reductive means of attack used by both sides of the argument via social media. I know internet activism is en vogue, but it’s so easy to co-opt. When I personally think of racism I don’t think of these people, I think of a larger more shadowy system that invented racism to separate and profit off this fear mongering; they are tools. It is larger than these people, who on a class level are right there with us, but with wildly different and problematic politics. There is never a time when we should discount our individual narratives and reduce them to merely a class problem. We want true allyship amongst each other, not a false unity. Via a focused class struggle we can see that it is a fight for gender, racial and social equity; when we get down to the nuts and bolts of it all, we find that we are both working long hours, going to dinner and trying our best to live a somewhat happy life. White supremacy is a system that profits from and is upheld by the masses. If you look at history, oppressed people have often voted against their own interests. I mention specifically these groups because I see them as a distraction to all of us and themselves.
I recently met with a property manager of some affordable housing units in San Jose. An older Mexican woman, who greeted me warmly and reminded me of one of my mom’s tias. She excused herself as she wiped her face with a tissue, telling me that she was watching Bush’s memorial service, and admittedly became emotional. “Eh well I know, but his kids spoke and said what a great father he was and that they were happy because he gets to be with his wife now, you know?” I awkwardly just said OK and felt the visceral reaction you might be having now as you just read that. For obvious reasons, I wanted to reject this woman and completely turn off any positive reception of her. I reminded myself I was there for business, on behalf of a client of mine, I needed to continue this interaction. I tried brushing it off for the moment, getting back to the conversation, “How much did you say the studio is going for?” We walked out of her office together, she told me, “mija I’m sorry, but I can't walk that fast, my arthritis acts up when it’s cold.” I slowed down to her pace, and she proudly showed me the community of apartments, stopping by to say hi to everyone we encountered, asking them something about their life. I can tell she picks up the conversation with people exactly where she left off. In talking about our own work within this housing crisis, she told me, “As you know, our goal is to house, NOT displace.” This resonated with me.
photo by Xanh Tran
Just 15 minutes before this I was so ready to write her off as an ignorant apologist, admitting to being emotional over the death of someone so atrocious. I was so ready to assume so much about her, yet I found myself being glad to have met her. In this specific context, our paths were crossing. Different experiences, perspectives, politics, but we have both chosen to drive our work by our commitment to people; we both choose to exercise ourselves to stay flexible and understanding within our larger structures. It reminded me of the importance of these intimate interactions.
I could not have had this interaction via the internet, where people’s words and problematics are hyper-examined. I don’t have to be friends with this woman, and I don’t have to agree with her, but we can choose to be in solidarity and work toward a common goal together. I see the internet teach this all or nothing approach to politics and solidarity. We either agree on the exact same things, and if we don't agree, we reject each other. We are all capable of learning and unlearning, but if we reject one another, we don't allow for this to happen. We need to hold onto these intimate moments, especially with people who are not the same as us. Teachable moments are something that we should hold for ourselves and for each other. The rhetoric around “getting paid for labor/teaching” as we guilt others for not knowing we what we know, or believing differently from us further isolates us from one another, and transforms a simple human interaction into another form of capital. Solidarity is multifaceted, and we strengthen our allyship when we choose to build bridges over unknown waters.
People are more concerned about being right than doing right. If you confirm someone is 'problematic' or has done something 'problematic' did anyone learn from this? Did we solve a problem or just give you a weird sadistic indulgence for being correct? Like said before, we are addicted to this kind of confirmation of a tragic world. It is easier to concede to the idea that some things are just too horrible to change and there is a satisfaction in confirming your bias. It is important that our efforts put forth to resist and educate should not be used as a mask for moral superiority, in the eyes of our people. It’s not a 'catching more bees with honey' kind of tactic I am speaking of. It's more of a, you may be right, but because of the delivery, you may not be changing anyone's mind. Folks are more likely to double down on ignorance because you cannot shame people into solidarity. I aim this critique inward so that we can foster more compassionate ways of creating change. I want to be clear that I’m not proposing some sort of ‘coffee with a cop’ type scenario or that I'm suggesting a quaint lunch date with the ‘enemy.’ I am not the type to lay down at the feet of someone oppressing my personal space, and I would never claim to be non-violent. If a conversation is not working, you've reached an impasse, and there is a physical threat to you or your homies, I believe you should rightly smash the opposition and protect yourself and loved ones, by all means, or by ANY means. This critique on our collective tact comes from the hope for our sustainability. I am not a fan of liberal respectability politics, but I do believe in the complexity of people. Through truthfully acknowledging our different identities and creating coalitions, we gain momentum towards a stronger class resistance.
"Let’s all make sure we are creating a climate where we can grow together, grow in power and grow in ways where we feel supported, loved and important."
Let’s take a look at our intentions moving forward, be frugal with our words and use them tactfully and with intent. In documenting, organizing and sharing, let’s think about moderating the ego that might play into our work, try our best to diminish the idea of cool, one of the more pervasive tools of capitalism. Let’s check ourselves when the use of struggle is fashioned in a way to aid in social mobility. Be aware of the attention it will receive. Is it going to add to a conversation positively or will it bring down others into feeling powerless? Let’s all make sure we are creating a climate where we can grow together, grow in power and grow in ways where we feel supported, loved and important. We must fight the urge to only live in reaction. Reactive behavior just exhausts our energies. We have not lost, there has always been a struggle between the ruling classes and the lower classes. We see more and more understanding that to free us all, we must organize on a real level. Currently, many groups are being formed within San Jose with shared goals and all running parallel to each other. The love is real, and the passion is contagious.
I urge you all who read this to join these groups or start your own groups and create coalitions of solidarity. If each of us takes splintering pieces away from oppressive forces, we can carve out our own spaces, as Fred Hampton’s famous speech is titled, “Power anywhere where there is people.” I urge you to talk about the issues affecting your identities exclusively with these groups and look for how these likely tie back into a system that calls for separation as opposed to cooperation. Honor yourselves and your communities and how our struggles can unite into a more massive class response. Remove the veil, locate the problems you see and as a group figure out how you can remedy them together. It isn’t all tragedy and working for change doesn’t have to be contrary to fun. It is not our traumas that should be the only thing that binds us, but our love for one another. Be ready for conflict. Speaking out is powerful, and it’s scary to be powerful. It is fair to be afraid, but not letting it crystallize into fear is essential and beautiful. Life is full of conflict and is mostly traumatic. Worrying about the fallout or the effect is unavoidable, if you have a heart, that is. Existence should not be a reason to grieve, and as dire as things may seem, we are still alive, and that took years of the perseverance of others to reach us. It’s easy to forget that even the past was a future beyond image.
This is a working list of organizing groups in the South Bay:
Serve the People SJ
Silicon Valley Debug
San Jose R.A.D (Regeneration Against Destruction)
Silicon Valley DSA
San Jose Peace and Justice Center
Grace Baptist Church
META (Mujeres Empresarias Tomando Acción)
Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition
Emergency Committee for the Preservation of Chicano Arts
Image by Rich Gutierrez