One of my great sorrows — as a critically constructive, “prefigurativist” anarchist writer — is that a small number of loud antiauthoritarian voices, too often patriarchal ones, seem to enjoy bullying the vast majority of anarchistic folks into silence. Such bullies are frequently male writers and/or males who control various DIY means of production/publication. They cow into submission those who want to engage in dialogue, grapple with hard questions, think aloud, do experimental and theoretical writing, and in these and other ways, help to cultivate many politically engaged street intellectuals — and just plain nice, caring people who happen to be anarchists.
Too many times, anarchists have told me that they are too scared to write or speak publicly. They are rightly worried that they will be dragged through the mud, particularly in highly personal ways. I can’t say I blame them. It shouldn’t be a necessity that one needs a thick, hard skin to give voice to ideas and imagination, to share our sharp and inquisitive minds as gifts with each other. It shouldn’t be a requirement that one have to deal with lies, insults, and nastiness.
I’ve also been told many times that I have “courage” for being so public (though I’d call it my inability to hold my tongue and not be honest, or my inability to maintain any sort of poker face or mask my emotions). That, too, brings me sorrow. We shouldn’t have to fear “braving” storms for expressing our notions and dreams.
I have, indeed, been called many names when I write things.
I’ve come to realize that I get called names more often than numerous other highly public anarchist writers and speakers because, alas, people perceive me as a female/women. (I actually don’t much like those labels, preferring something along the lines of genderqueer leaning toward masculine, anarcho-feminist, binary-smasher, nonheteronormative misfit, or just plain human being who is trying to do their best.) Yeah, sexism seems to up the ante when one writes/speaks in visible ways. That’s a whole other story, which I’ll gladly share someday.
Anti-Semitism has also been another bludgeon used against me, as a godless cultural Jew.
We could add how classism, racism, ableism, and other structures of domination do violence to who feels willing and able to speak and write.
For now, first, I want to encourage the writerly and speakerly voice in all sort of people to emerge from the shadows, hoping that we can lend care and encouragement to each other as well as co-mentorship and a whole bunch of other good stuff (that’s my posi voice speaking!). I know this is easier said than done. Still, I want to offer a nonjudgmental and warm hand to you. If many of us write and speak, taking the high road together, perhaps the bullies’ voices will be drowned out and ignored.
And second, I want to share the impetus for this post.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the categories of “care,” “empathy,” and “grief.” Tomorrow, here in Madison, WI, I’m giving myself four days of participation in a new program, named “grief support specialist,” to journey further toward those categories, to see what they might offer in terms of transforming this sorrow-filled society into something that better approximates caring communities of caring people.
We anarchists lose a lot, and so have much, always, to grieve. We shouldn’t give each other grief for striving to articulate aloud our social critiques and social visions. We can only begin to process and bear all the grief that social phenomena piles on us and so many others — and then, maybe, challenge its roots — by trading stories, widely and openly. We should celebrate our militant research, marginalized perspectives, speculative theories, experimental articulations, heatfelt expositions, and all the varied ways that varied folks among us — now too often quiet(ed) — might choose to illuminate life as it is and life as it could be. That takes lived commitment to a generous spirit of empathy and care toward each other, and practices to match.
Two 5th-grade friends of mine told me last week that their elementary school has a zero-tolerance policy toward bullies. They are both what get dubbed “special needs” kids, and yet I’m always marveling at the extra special insights that spring from their lips and pencils. It broke my heart when one of them told their mom, “I just want to be a cookie-cutter kid,” because even with no-bullying rules, it’s tough to go against the status quo in this society. Tougher, still, when we’re faced with the threat of being badly treated for putting ourselves out there.
Yes indeed, I’ve been called many names simply for the act of speaking my mind, heart, and ideas: liberal, authoritarian, marxist, fascist, bolshevik, leninist, progressive, antifeminist, a strong personality. I’ve been accused of things like single-handedly being responsible for the gentrification of San Francisco because I write about those, including myself, who are fighting evictions and the lose of our homes in a place I love and, indeed, do call home.
But yesterday, I got called another name: unicorn.
What if our writing and speaking and acting together for a better world brought out the beauty of what we want to name — about ourselves and others?
We may need to write many words — words as utopia, as weapons, as resistance, as witness. We may need to speak many truths, which may long fall to the ground, unheard and unheeded.
Yet if we voice them enough, more and more of us will listen, actively, to each other, and with compassionate curiosity and love, move forward, as racing rebel armies of prefigurative unicorns. Let’s be fierce, friendly misfits together.
Thanks, Carla Joy Bergman (@joyfulcarla), for finding the perfect name to toss my way — I trust, as some sort of collective encouragement for others, too
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein. I found this wheat-pasted unicorn on a wall just hours after being called a unicorn; yes, there is a bit of magic left in this bleak world of ours. Madison, WI, October 7, 2014.)