The 9th Annual Critical Race and Anti-Colonial Studies Conference
Compassion, Complicity and Conciliation
The Politics, Cultures and Economies of 'Doing Good'
Montreal, June 5-7 2009
Concordia and McGill Universities
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
6 June 2009
Concordia University, Montreal
The 9th Annual Critical Race and Anti-Colonial Studies Conference
Compassion, Complicity and Conciliation
The Politics, Cultures and Economies of 'Doing Good'
Montreal, June 5-7 2009
Concordia and McGill Universities
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Dr. ANDREA SMITH
Captured by the state: The antiviolence movement and the non-profit industrial complex
[Introduction by Dr. Gada Mahrouse]
I'd like to now introduce to you our second keynote lecturer for this conference, Professor Andrea Smith, and I want to say that I'm actually very thrilled to be here introducing her to you.
And as you can see from the information in your program, Professor Smith is a highly accomplished scholar and activist. She is currently an assistant professor in the department of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside. Her work focuses against violence against women of color and their communities, specifically Native American women. Professor Smith's latest book, published in 2008, is called Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. She is co-founder of INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, The Boarding School Healing Project, and the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations. In 2005, Professor Smith was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in recognition of her research and work regarding violence against women of color in the US.
I could go on to list many more of her of her accomplishments, but instead I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you why I personally am so delighted to be welcoming her, and why we immediately thought of her as a keynote for this conference, given its them of interrogating the idea of "doing good". In the late 1990's I worked at a predominantly white, government funded, rape crisis center. This was in one sense, a very meaningful job for me because I was committed to working toward ending sexual violence. But at the same time, I was profoundly uneasy in the organization I was in. I didn't have the language or the analysis to understand it then, but in a very visceral and embodied way, I knew there was something wrong with the work we were doing and the way we were doing it. Yet because this was an organization with such righteous conviction that we were "doing good", it was very difficult to name this unease.
And somehow, at this time, I happened upon an ad for a conference taking place in April 2000 at the University of California in Santa Cruz, and the title of that conference alone made it clear to me that I had to attend. The conference was called The Color of Violence: Violence against Women of Color.
There I saw women who would eventually become my intellectual mentors including Angela Davis, Kimberly Crenshaw, and Haunani Kay Trask, just to name a few. And the ways in which violence against women was being conceived at this conference helped me to see that one cannot end violence against women without tackling racism, colonialism, immigration policies, land rights, the prison system, militarism, heterosexist normativity and neo-liberalism. In short, this conference made clear the inextricable links between personal and state violence. It also helped me to see that the refusal to address these issues in feminist organizations is a form of violence in and of itself. My experience of this conference was far from exceptional. It left a great impression on a number of women and sparked what has since become the INCITE women of color movement.
At the center of this truly remarkable event was a very modest Cherokee feminist anti-violence activist named Andrea Smith, who also worked as a rape crisis counselor at the time. Needless to say, she was a great inspiration and I've been following her work ever since. Now nearly ten years later, I teach at a women's studies program here at Concordia University, and in my courses we grapple with how systems of oppression interlock to produce conditions of violence. To my mind, few scholars illustrate such an analysis as effectively as Andrea Smith does.
In her wonderful book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide published in 2005, a book that won the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, Professor Smith writes about Native American women activist communities in the US and astutely captures the impossibility of choosing sides between gender and race.
"The danger of such a separation" Professor Smith reminds us "is that it fails to recognize that is precisely through sexism and gendered violence that colonialism and white supremacy have been successful."
More recently Professor Smith co-authored another incredible book entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. If I'm not mistaken, she will be presenting some of this today in her talk entitled Captured by the State: The Non-Violence Movement and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. We're all very keen to hear this talk so I'll stop here and ask you to join me in welcoming Professor Andrea Smith.
Thank you so much for the very nice introduction. In fact the analysis was so great I think I don’t even have to give a talk. I also want to give thanks to the Indigenous peoples on who’s land we stand and to the organizers of this conference, and I am very excited that the links we have made at this conference between settler-colonialism in the US and Canada and what’s going on in Palestine, and I like that they bring these two together, as we see that the question of the nation-state comes squarely on the table which I’ll talk about later. I thank you very much for doing that, I think that many people are starting to make these links and I think we need to proliferate this analysis.
As was just mentioned, when we talk about the politics of doing good, certainly my biggest mistakes were in the anti-violence movement, where I’ve been active in for the last twenty years, where I spent a lot of time thinking I was doing good, only to say “Oops! I think I made a tragic mistake”. But anyway, I think that’s part of what organizing is. If we become invested in feeling we always did the right thing, we fail to notice that the way oppression operates is that it changes. So even if we come up with a good strategy one moment, it may not be a good strategy at the next moment. So we should never be wedded to these strategies but always flexible and always engage in a process of self-critique.
So just to give a little history about how I started to see the complicity of the anti-violence movement and the state, was I was part of, kind of the women color caucus mode of organizing in the national sexual assault movement in the US and if you’ve been part of this women of color caucus organizing, it could be any caucus, the indigenous caucus, whatever. But basically the model of this organizing is you’re attached to a larger body that’s either say, male dominated or white dominated, and you spend all your time yelling at the people in charge, and if you do a good job of it they start to pay you to yell at them, and it becomes financially lucrative at some points, but actually it doesn’t change anything because they don’t think you’re going anywhere. So you get paid to be the radical critic, but you don’t actually change the way organizing is done.
So what this tended to mean was when we had the domestic violence or sexual assault 40 hour trainings, there would be this great concern that we must be racially inclusive. So we would put a medicine wheel on the training that was done for everybody else, and selling it became an indigenous model. So this was the kind of the politics of inclusion that we were addressing. We decided we were getting a little tired of this after about, you know, ten or fifteen years of this kind of shenanigans, and said “What if we do a different kind of organizing, and instead of trying to include us into these models that were built without us in mind, what if we centered ourselves in the analysis, and asked ourselves “What would it take to build a movement that could end violence against women of color?” ”
When we framed it in this way, we started to see that we had to address state violence at the same time we address interpersonal gender violence, and when we make those links, we started to see then that this would actually change the way we look at violence not just for women of color but for everybody. So we practiced a model of re-centering rather than a model of inclusion. So then we had to develop a critique, not just about the racism in the anti-violence movement, but the way the movement had been coopted by the state. To make that very sad story short, the movement started to develop, say in the 70’s, so there’s the idea that women are going to get together and end violence in our communities, uh, “Do you need a place to stay? Maybe you can stay in my basement”, is there a perpetrator at your work? Maybe we can go harass them”, but there’s this idea where we can think of strategies where we’re going to address violence ourselves.
But the state being the sneaky thing that it is comes in says “Little ladies, it looks like you all have a problem with violence, and we’d like to give you a grant to solve this problem. However, when you accept our grant, you accept all the stipulations that go with this grant. So we are not going to fund any unseemly rabble-rousing activities. No, we think the problem is that survivors are victims, they are ill and need professional therapy from somebody with an MSW or a PhD, and you wanna do any activist work we want you to work with the state. We want you to work with the criminal justice system because as it so happens, we’re building up the prison industrial complex and we’d like to co-opt your feminist rhetoric to support our repressive anti-crime agenda”.
So it’s not too long before you have many anti-violence programs actually locating themselves in police departments and effectively operating as an arm of the state. For instance, there was this one shelter in South Dakota that was conducting background searches on their clients and having them arrested if they had any outstanding warrants. And of course these programs are not making any critiques of state violence. When I was in Chicago and anti-immigration legislation was being deliberated they said “we cannot take a stand on this because this is not an anti-violence issue.
As Anannya Bhattacharjee says, “We can’t go march against the police for police brutality then go to them for domestic violence as if they are two separate institutions”. So essentially what happened was that because we became coopted by the state we could then no longer have a critique of the state. And what we failed to ask ourselves is “was all this work with the criminal justice system actually leading to less violence?" And what we found out is that study after study, after study is showing that prisons don't have an effect on crime rates. They don't lead to less violence... And this may not be the time to do the extended analysis of the prison industrial complex, but to also make that long story short… Most of the people there in prison are there because of either drugs… Well you can get drugs easier in prison and there’s no treatment facilities there, or if you’re there for crimes of poverty, what does a prison sentence do but give you a police record, a prison record to make it less likely you can get a job, and when we talk about issues of violence, well if the issue was a few whacko dudes we need to lock up maybe the prison system might make sense as a strategy, but when you have studies in which half the men say they would rape someone if they thought they could get away with it, you either half to lock up half the male population, which maybe somebody might argue, but it’s very financially unfeasible
So when we’re talking about a society that largely condones violence, what you have is a political organizing problem. You have to transform communities so that they no longer tolerate violence. However I should just briefly mention that when we had this critique of the prison system… Oh, and I should also mention that the New York Times actually came out with a study that showed that the net result of all these laws that we passed that were supposed to help us have led to a situation where battered women are killing their partners less often, but batterers are not killing their partners less often. And in fact, many of the laws we tried to get passed like mandatory arrest laws, where the police have to arrest somebody on a domestic violence case, have basically been used against survivors because now perpetrators now know to call the police first. So Beth Ritchie found that half to a quarter of women in Chicago jails are there on domestic violence charges. This is an example where the things we thought that were going to help end up being used against us in a number of ways.
But then when we had to look at what’s the alternative to this, the thing that was usually proffered was the restorative justice system. So the idea here is that if there’s a crime it’s not just between two individuals but there’s been a breakdown in the community. And therefore instead of taking that person out of the community, how do you get the whole community involved in holding this person accountable? But of course the problem is that models tend not to work when it comes to gender violence because if a community is going to hold someone accountable they have to think what had happened was bad, and in the case of gender violence they often don’t side with the person who’s been victimized but with the perpetrator. So therefore what we realized is that while we want to develop community based responses, we can’t do so with a romanticized notion of community that’s not sexist, homophobic or otherwise problematic, or even presume that a community is there in the first place. So again that's why it becomes a political organizing problem rather than a model social service problem. How do we organize in a way to create communities of accountability where violence starts to become unthinkable?
So with that then, INCITE Women of Color Against Violence formed and we asked ourselves “If the state’s not the solution, what else could be the solution? We really didn’t know, but we thought “let’s just do activist institutes around the country and start to see what ideas might come up. And one thing that developed in this process is that in one workshop somebody said “This is a problem I’m dealing with right now because in my apartment complex there’s a man that's beating his wife, and I don’t trust the police, I don’t want to call them, but I also don’t want this violence to continue”. And when she said this, it made me realize how this criminal justice approach had actually individualized not just survivors of violence but also people who might intervene because it never occurred to her to organize the apartment complex to do something. So if you ask yourself the question “What can I do?” there’s not much you can do other than call the police or do nothing. But if you ask yourself the question “what can we do” then a lot of ideas start to develop and that’s what we found. When we asked ourselves “what can we do?” many groups had lots of creative ideas, so we started to collect them all, we put them on the website and then many groups started to develop their own community accountability processes.
And when we developed these ideas, we saw these as a kind of a proactive and a creative process rather than a negative process. That is, the idea was not to say, "If you are under attack you can’t call the police" because if you’re under attack, do what you need to do. The question isn’t should you call the police or not. The question is "why have we given you no other options but to call the police?"
So how do we then start to proliferate the alternatives that eventually squeeze out these things that are not working? Similarly when we think about the prison abolitionist movement, again it’s a creative response, it’s not "Tear down all prison walls tomorrow", it’s "crowd out prisons" with other things that work effectively and bring communities together rather than destroying them.
So with that then however, we started to see that this critique of the prison industrial complex for addressing state violence has more radical ramifications, because when we talk about making violence against women a crime, we think about the word crime, what are we to do with the fact that in the United States genocide has never been a crime. In fact, genocide has often been the law itself. So with that then, when we look at the prison industrial complex we see it's really the arm of a nation-state form of governance that's based on the logics of violence, domination and control. And when we therefore try to address issues of gender and racial injustice through the state, we are then not able to look at how the state is itself constituted by violence, settler-colonialism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy.
Of course I think that Native feminist theory in particular makes a critical intervention because there could be no US or Canada without the continuing genocide of Native peoples. Sandy Grande states:
“The United States (And you can substitute Canada if you like)is a nation defined by its original sin: the genocide of American Indians. . .American Indian tribes are viewed as an inherent threat to the nation, poised to expose the great lies of U.S. democracy: that we are a nation of laws and not random power; that we are guided by reason and not faith; that we are governed by representation and not executive order; and finally, that we stand as a self-determined citizenry and not a kingdom of blood or aristocracy. . .From the perspective of American Indians, “democracy” has been wielded with impunity as the first and most virulent weapon of mass destruction.”
And I should note that after 9/11 even radical scholars started to complain about how the great ideals of democracy have been eroded by the Bush regime, but I think if we understand genocide as foundational to US democracy we actually realize that Bush’s policies are the fulfillment of US democracy, not an aberration to it.
By the way, my views do not represent that of the University of California.
When we do not presume that the US should or will always continue to exist, then that frees our mind open to think of “what are the forms of governance that we really would like to live under?” We could think of the US in particular, but actually maybe the nation-state form of governance in general (and this is where I think the analysis of Palestine/Israel also come into question). We can start to say “what if we don’t presume that this has to be the way we have to live?” Then we can ask ourselves “what are alternative forms of governance that we might want to develop?”
This is where I think indigenous peoples have a contribution to make because based on memories of pre-colonial indigenous governance systems (Not to make a claim on how all Native nations operated prior to colonization) but at least in some of these memories we have the notion of an indigenous nationhood that is not the same as a nation state, and hence we can call into question the assumption that the goal of a national liberation struggle is to attain a nation state, or conversely that a nation state can actually free oppressed groups.
So these ideas then that have developed around indigenous nationhood are understandings of nation that are not ethnic cleansing bound in “we’re in, you’re out” screw the rest of the world, but our understanding that we are in relationship to the entire world, to all creation and to all people. We need to act in a respectful way in this kind of global context, and also that we can govern ourselves not through hierarchy and domination, but through principles of consent, mutual respect and interrelatedness.
(Sharon Venne?) puts it this way;
“We understand the concept of sovereignty as woven through a fabric that encompasses our spirituality and responsibility. This is a cyclical view of sovereignty, incorporating it into our traditional philosophy and view of our responsibilities. It differs greatly from the concept of Western sovereignty which is based upon absolute power. For us absolute power is in the Creator and the natural order of all living things; not only in human beings… Our sovereignty is related to our connections to the earth and is inherent."
And Lakota Harden also puts it this way… There's often the assumption that when we talk about sovereignty struggles that that means everybody else has to leave. But Lakota Harden describes indigenous sovereignty as based on freedom for all people. As she states
“If it doesn’t work for one of us then it doesn’t work for any of us. The definition of sovereignty means that none of us is free unless all of us are free. We can’t, we won’t turn anyone away. “
How can this be accomplished? Well, key to this understanding of nationhood is a different understanding of land. That is because in the current colonial context, when your land is being encroached upon, the way you’re forced to respond is in the core system, to say it’s not your land it’s our land, but what you don’t get to ask is “what should be the best relationship between people’s and land?” , “should land be a commodity that could be bought and sold and controlled by one group of people, or is the land something that we all need to respect and we all need to share responsibility for.
Patricia Monture-Angus states it this way. She says;
“Although Aboriginal Peoples maintain a close relationship with the land. . . it is not about control of the land. . .Earth is mother and she nurtures us all. . .it is the human race that is dependent on the earth and not vice versa. . .
Sovereignty, when defined as my right to be responsible. . . requires a relationship with territory (and not a relationship based on control of that territory).. . .What must be understood then is that Aboriginal request to have our sovereignty respected is really a request to be responsible. I do not know of anywhere else in history where a group of people have had to fight so hard just to be responsible.”
So as Glen Coulthard who we voted as tallest and smartest person in native studies points out is that a lot of our organizing is often based on this politics of recognition. “Let’s have the state recognize our claims”, right? But when you do so you end up putting yourself in the category of a racial minority status (despite claims to be arguing for sovereignty) and the state’s going to adjudicate between these competing claims. What if instead we asserted our sovereignty by seeking recognition with each other rather than from the settler state itself? And as he knows, these politics of recognition that impact the way we even see our own struggles for sovereignty and self-determination. He says:
“The key problem of the politics of recognition when applied to the colonial context is that it rests on the problematic assumption that the flourishing of indigenous peoples as a distinct and self-determining agent is somehow dependent on their being granted recognition and institutional accommodation from the surrounding settler-state and society . Not only will the terms of recognition tend to remain the property of those in power to grant to their inferiors in ways they deem appropriate, but also under these conditions, the indigenous population will often come to see their limited and structurally constrained terms of recognition granted to them as their own”
Essentially they start to identify with white liberty and white justice.
Now I think these critiques also necessarily have a feminist slant to them because when you critique this nation-state form of governance, you start to realize that the building block of this is hetero-patriarchy.
And to see how these are linked we will now turn to the Christian right who will explain it to us.
This is from a Charles Colson from Prison Fellowship who explains that the cause of terrorism is same sex marriage:
"Marriage is the traditional building block of human society, intended both to unite couples and bring children into the world. . .There is a natural moral order for the family... Marriage is not a private institution designed solely for the individual gratification of its participants. If we fail to enact a Federal Marriage Amendment, we can expect, not just more family breakdown, but also more criminals behind bars and more chaos in our streets. It’s like handing moral weapons of mass destruction to those who would use America’s depravity to recruit more snipers, more hijackers, and more suicide bombers.
[We must preserve traditional marriage in order to] protect the United States from those who would use our depravity to destroy us."
And world magazine, a Christian right magazine, further explained that the cause of Abu Ghraib prison crisis was feminism, because feminism causes women to become disoriented about their gender roles, join the army and abuse prisoners.
So what is being explained here is that hetero-patriarchy is the logic that naturalizes other forms of social domination. That is, just that men are supposed to naturally rule women on the basis of biology, so too should the elites of the society naturally rule everyone else. So that’s why when colonizers first came to these lands one of their first projects was targeting people who do not fit into kind of a binary gender system and also a primary project was instituting patriarchy within native communities because if your community is not ordered on the basis of social hierarchy why would you accept colonial domination from somebody else? The only reason we continue to live under these oppressive conditions is because we think that they’re normal, natural and inevitable, and patriarchy is what makes these things seem natural. A key then, to ending structures of domination is to denaturalize them, and that is why addressing hetero-patriarchy must be central to any struggle against white supremacy or settler-colonialism.
In addition to this, we have to look at how sexual violence is a key strategy for colonialism, because when you look at, say the history of Indian massacres, colonizers did not just kill native peoples but they tried to kill their sense of even being a people. These massacres were always accompanied by sexual mutilation, rape, etc. because the goal was to render Native Americans inherently rapeable and by extension their lands inherently invadable and their resources inherently extractable.
So therefore when we have sovereignty struggles or other racial justice struggles, etcetera, not really challenge hetero-patriarchy then we cannot successfully end white supremacy or settler-colonialism either. Bringing back Glen Coulthard, we have essentially internalized a white supremacist form of self-determination as our own struggle. So we need to make those links central.
And I should mention that at the 2009 Social Forum in Brazil there was a whole day dedicated to the struggle of indigenous people, and I thought it was striking that indigenous peoples in Latin America were making consensus statements saying the primary thing they wanted to get across was that we need to end the nation-state form of governance. They said that “It hasn’t worked for the last 500 years so we don’t think that it will start working now” and they directly link it as a patriarchal institution based on a western epistemological framework, and I thought it was very striking that some of the groups located in the Amazon were saying that they are facing literal physical extinction as we speak. It’s not metaphorical. They’re literally being shot and killed as we speak. But when they came to this forum they said that “we’re not here primarily to save ourselves. We’re here to save the world, and to save the world we need to live together in a radically different way. And when they articulated their view of sovereignty they said “It’s not an issue of saying it’s our land versus somebody else’s land” they say “everybody can be part of the land but you have to live in a radically relational way to the land, and if you can do so then we can all be welcome because we all need to care for the land in a responsible way.” So I think we should listen to what’s going on in these movements and rethink how we articulate what should be the goal of a struggle for self-determination and sovereignty.
So with that then, now that we’ve heard all these ides, how do we operationalize them? And I think a key way to operationalize these politics is the through the revolution through trial and error. That is, if anybody really knew how to end global oppression we probably would have done it by now. So let’s just admit that we don’t really know what we’re talking about and we’re just going to try stuff out and see what happens. Try an idea, let us know if it works, if it doesn’t work, please let us know so that we do that ourselves, and then continue to share and struggle as we go along, again recognizing that whatever cool idea we come up with today is going to get co-opted tomorrow anyway, so we’ll have to have another idea the day after. So we have to have to have kind of what Cara calls a ‘jazzy response’ to social justice organizing.
So with that then I want to share some of the ideas that people are thinking about, not to say these are the answer, but maybe they will be thought provoking for us as we think about what we can do in our particular context.
I think a key thing to consider when you think about organizing is to… well I don’t have a blackboard so you have to visualize a diagram here with me, OK? Think of like a pyramid system here, and this is really what global oppression is. We have 5 percent, the top of the pyramid, that owns 95 percent of the wealth, and the bad news is that they have all the money and the guns, but the good news is that there’s a lot more of us than them, but the key is we have to get this other 95 percent mobilized.
So it’s not just enough to do just activist work. We have to do work that brings people who aren’t already activists into the work; we have to be doing constantly base-building work. And this is what I learned in Latin America, activists in Chile were telling me, they go “we laugh at you.” They said “you get all excited if you get 200 people to a protest and then you get a police permit to march against police brutality. What good does that do? In Chile, when Pinochet came to power, we go a million people out each week.” which would be in the US, the counterpart of 40 million people out each week. So that’s the kind of scale we need to think about. Even if you get 100,000 people to march DC, well next year if it’s the same 100,000 people, it’s not a challenge to the system. It’s not a challenge until the movement comes to grow and grow, and becomes bigger and bigger.
So with that then how do we think about building movements? And one idea that’s come up particularly from indigenous movements in Latin America is the idea of taking power through making power.
They said they previously operated under what they call the Machismo-Leninismo model of organizing. They said “This is the idea where we’re gonna get our guns, go to the mountains and take over the state.” And they said it didn’t work out as well as we hoped because the movements were so hierarchical we ended up replicating the same hierarchies we thought we were getting rid of. But also these movements were not very inclusive because how many people have time to get out their guns and take over the state? So they said instead... They realized, well, and folks in Chiapas said this in particular “we really had the idea that we would fight the state directly but we realized that they had all the guns so it was kind of a losing proposition."
But they said “what if we started to create the world we want to live in now, and more importantly what if we started trying to create these autonomous communities, divest from the state, throw in healthcare, educational systems, etcetera and also start to implement alternative governance systems that are based on different principles, radical participatory democracy, etcetera. And the important thing is it’s not just enough to put forth a cool hippie commune zone, but you have to proliferate these zones so that they get bigger and bigger and there’s more and more of them. Well eventually if you achieve a mass scale, what can the guns do if we all start to live differently? So again that becomes the idea of taking power by making power. Instead of taking out the state directly, squeeze out the state by creating the world that we actually want to live in. When that happens then you start to realize the importance of developing a movement where you don’t leave your life to join the movement but you integrate the movement into the life that you’re already leaving. So for instance if you all have to cook anyway, well can we collectivize that cooking system, and then integrate, you know, education on agribusiness or other such things.
So how do we make it part of what we're already doing rather than thinking it's another full time job we have to add to that job we currently have?
So to give one example, one person from insight went to visit the factory movement in Argentina and this is the movement where people are just directly taking over the factories, reorganizing the work and they're also living together communally. And since everybody shares the work she went in to sign up for her task, but she had just given birth recently and so she was breast feeding. So when she went to sign in for her task they said "You're breast feeding and we recognize that as work." So that they recognized as that work and then she didn't have to sign up for an additional chore. So that is recognizing that all of this work that needs to be kind of collectivized.
So then we think, well "how would this be operationalized maybe in the US or Canadian context?" and of course we don't tend to see such huge movements because largely we do the organizing through the non-profit model.
Visualize this next diagram; this is, in Latin America, their visual representation of the non-profit system:
So let’s say on the top we have this highway, the super highway of capitalism and colonialism and everybody is driving their SUV gas guzzling cars chirping along. And what happens however is that in the US context in particular, where you're living in the belly of the beast, the system cannot afford for us to be seriously organized. However, also because it's in the belly of the beast, the US has so much money they have interesting strategies to address possible organizing. So what they can do is, along this super highway, they can build an alternative highway that goes around in circles, and you can drive in this alternative highway with your Toyota Prius car, and you can feel very counter cultural, and you fail to notice that this highway's still swimming along, they've built this highway for you and you're driving around in circles. So this is essentially what they say is going on with the non-profit system, where our organizing is being managed by the state and by capital.
This manifests, in a negative way, for our organizing in numerous ways, and the most obvious way we can see is the huge foundations and how they impact our work, like the Ford Foundation. For instance, it's been documented how the Ford Foundation used its funding deliberately to ensure that the anti-apartheid struggle against South Africa would not have an anti-capitalist critique.
I could say on a personal level, with INCITE, we had a little run-in with the Ford Foundation ourselves because they gave us this $100,000 grant and told us to go spend it, so after we committed all our funds, they then retracted it over our statement on Palestine. So we had like$60,000 we had to raise in like three weeks, and what we found was we actually did raise it by calling a lot of people, so that goes to show that sometimes you don't need the funding that you think you need to do, but this also shows what these big foundations dictate the terms by which you may think to struggle or organize.
But even if we're not talking about the most evil foundations, what about the cool grassroots foundations, etcetera? Nevertheless, even though they may have the best intentions, they want to do good. When we get funded in that way, it changes the way we think about our organizing as well, in ways we're not often conscious of.
So first of all, what tends to happen is that because we're getting funded by foundations and we're not getting funded by our constituents, we don't have an incentive to get more constituents, so we end up having movements that don't grow because our salaries are not dependent on having growing movements and in addition then we become accountable to the foundation rather than to our constituents who then don't feel any investment in the work that we're doing. And then because we're getting paid, we start to develop a model of career activism where you think you're not going to be an activist unless you get paid to do the work.
But as we go back to our pyramid system with this whole 95% that we need to get mobilized, obviously they can't all get paid to do organizing work. So what's happening is a few people are getting paid to work 500 hours a week to replicate the work that millions of people need to be doing and they get all burned out and cranky and screw up the movement. So it becomes a problem.
In addition, in order to keep getting these foundations, what ends up getting prioritized in organizations is good administrators rather than organizers. "Who can write a good grant?", "Who can do book keeping?", etcetera, and obviously the people who tend to have these skills often have a higher formal education than people who need to be doing grassroots organizing but don't have that same skill set. So we don't end up prioritizing people whose primary skills just might be grassroots organizing.
Then the other problem with the foundations is that they tend to fund very short term fundable strategies. What looks good for a photo op? But if you think about grassroots organizing, that probably will require about 50 years of knocking on people's doors, it's just not that exciting looking, and it doesn't look that fundable, but that's the long term work that's needed to build sustainable movements. And also because we get funded for strategies, we tend to become wedded to those strategies because otherwise we won't get refunded.
But what if you're doing your work and you realize that strategy doesn't work? You don't feel the freedom to say "Oops, made a mistake, let’s try something else.", because you're worried about what's going to happen to your funding. So then what happens is you try this thing out, it really doesn't work but you tell the funder it did work, and then they tell everybody it worked successfully so everybody just adopts your failed methods, and before you know it you're proliferating disasters.
So therefore I think what we need to do is... It's not so much having this purist response to saying non-profits are always evil, but rethinking the role of the non-profit in social justice organizing. And again this is what I've learned from movements in other contexts. It's not that they don't have non-profits; it's just that they don't do the organizing through the non-profit. People develop independently funded social movements, and if they want a specific thing funded, they might set up a front non-profit, but the non-profit answers to the movement. It's not the movement itself, and if it gets defunded then they're not screwed.
So if we think about the context of say, anti-violence organizing, it's not so much that domestic violence or sexual assault agencies are evil, but what if instead of thinking of them as the movement, what if we thought of building an independent anti-violence movement that those agencies supported? We might then be able to expand our reach for getting resources but also we would not then be dependent on them to have our movements grow.
So then, when we think about these different ways of organizing, like how can we organize different ways to engage with millions and millions of people and not just a few career activists, we also start to see the importance of doing the organizing in a radically different way.
And in particular, we see the need to build a more fun revolution. And this is what I learned from the Christian right, 'cause I was going to the Promise Keepers conferences, I don't know if you have them here, the big Evangelical men's movement, but they're in these huge stadiums, you know, to praise Jesus and become more responsible in their homes, etcetera, and what I noticed about these conferences is that they were a lot of fun. They had hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and everybody’s singing and everybody is nice to you... and poor Stan has a problem with pornography and nobody yelled at him but they would say "Oh Stan, we want you to be the Christian you could be, we'll be a community of accountability for you." It's very nurturing.
Then I go to meetings on he left, they last like 5 hours, and the chairs are uncomfortable and there's no food, and everybody yells at you for being counter-revolutionary. And then we wonder why no one wants to join. So, I think when we start to organize in this super-intense way, like "Revolution's around the corner so I can't have any fun now", well it's not too long before you're burnt out and running off to the day spa or shopping mall.
So I think then that the key is how do we think about building movements that are nourishing that give to you as much as you give to them? And I think this would be important for academics because academics like to say "I'm just too sick, tired, busy or depressed to do organizing work. But the problem is if we’re going to build a movement around everybody who's not sick, tired, busy or depressed we have two people to end global oppression.
So I think we have to one, rethink the idea of why should academics not have to do organizing work as compared to beekeepers, grocery workers or florists? Doesn't everybody need to be doing this work?
But for it not to seem so overwhelming, again we have to get out of the career activist model and think about how to integrate it into the work we're already doing. So if you think of "how can I give up 20 more hours out of my work week to do organizing" that might seem overwhelming, but if it was a half hour a week that might seem a lot more doable. But if millions of people did this extra half hour a week we could probably see a lot more change than we're currently seeing at the moment.
And again I think this also entails having a gendered analysis of how we do the work, because we tend to have this private/public distinction, which is the only collective work we do is in the quote "public sphere" like were gonna organize together to do a protest or do a march, etcetera, but when we talk about daycare or cooking or day to day maintenance, that's on your own time. So obviously the people who are more burdened with these tasks are not going to also be able to go do all these street protests at the same time. But if we collectivize all of this work together then it might start to be doable for everybody to be integrated into the movement because it wouldn't be like we have to leave their life to do this kind of organizing.
And there's very interesting models going on. For instance in Pachamama in Brooklyn New York, they organized a day care cooperative because everybody needs daycare, and they do the organizing through the cooperative itself. And they actually learned this from the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua where the daycare centers were a locus of revolutionary activity that went under the radar because nobody could assume that people needing daycare might actually be doing revolutionary work at the same time. So opening up these organizing spaces in a creative way started to enable us to see a different way of doing movement building that could be sustainable in the long term.
When we look at this it all might seem very pie in the sky but I think these more utopic visions are very important to us because they are a barometer of where we're going. Because if we don't know where we're going, how do we measure the effectiveness of our short term strategies?
To illustrate, I was at an anti-violence conference and we were in a workshop, and the question that was presented to us was "in twenty years, what would you like to see?" and everybody said things like "more shelters and more hotlines" and nobody said "less violence", like we actually forgot why we were there in the first place. If we had remembered what we were trying to do we would have done a lot of these strategies a long time ago, but if we don't keep the vision in our forefront at all times, then we get wedded into these strategies without asking ourselves "are these strategies working?", “are they taking us closer to where we want to go or farther away?"
And obviously again, when we think about what our long-term vision is it's always a provisional vision because if global oppression were to end tomorrow none of us would be fit to live in it because we'd all be structured by the logic of white supremacy, settler-colonialism, hetero-patriarchy, etcetera, but nevertheless we could be part of the creative political project where we try new things and we learn from each other and we try to take us closer to where we want to go knowing that the vision will change as we change ourselves.
So with that then I'd like to end with a quote from John Holloway who articulates his understanding of revolution through trial and error. He says
"Revolutionary change is more desperately urgent than ever, but we do not know any more what revolution means.... [O]ur not-knowing is ... the not-knowing of those who understand that not-knowing is part of the revolutionary process. We have lost all certainty, but the openness of uncertainty is central to revolution. ‘Asking we walk’, say the Zapatistas. We ask not only because we do not know the way (we do not), but also because asking the way is part of the revolutionary process itself."
So is there any question comment or disagreement?
[Q] I’m an 87 year old WWII veteran and I was very intrigued by your idea of sovereignty. Of course world wars started back in 1914 as we know, Second World War 1939. People are talking about if there's a third world war that's it, the human race is finished because we're in the nuclear age. But your whole theory about sovereignty, I thought you were gonna go ahead and say that if the people are sovereign, one of the aspects of sovereignty means that we have freedom of choice and you talked about the nation state as being dysfunctional and a war game and so forth and so on. Well I gave up on nationality when I was 26 years old because I figured out that I'm not gonna play the war game anymore. I was a bomber pilot in WWII. My brother died in Salerno and I told myself that same day, I said "I'm gonna chose a higher level of citizenship like the founding fathers of the United States did in 1789". Now the idea of world citizenship, that's what I thought you were coming to because this is one of the oldest ideas in the history books. Socrates called himself a world citizen back in… 2500 years ago. The ancient Greeks called themselves world citizens. Now that to me is where we're at. If we don't recognize that our lives are at stake and we have the right to choose our own political allegiance, and that allegiance has to correspond to one world, which you've been talking about, thank God, then we're done.
In other words, my question to you is, you've mentioned everything except the famous words, the heretic words, "world government". I was waiting for it but I didn't hear it, I'd like to hear your opinion if it's true that the human race is sovereign and in danger and we all know that because the nuclear option is on the table. Isn't it not only possible but inevitable that we have to have a world government of for and by the people of the world? Your opinion please.
[AS] I think these are difficult ideas that we should all... I don't have the answer, let's put it this way, but I would say maybe one modification of that would be... I think the indigenous peoples have very radical relationships to specific land bases and I think the idea of world citizenship can occlude this. And I think that the trap that tends to happen is that people assume because peoples might have a radical relationship to a specific land base that that relationship must be understood in very exclusionary terms. So I think there may be a way to understand both of these things together. When maybe we visit some group's territory we recognize they may have the original instructions for how that land should be cared for, but we can maybe still take part in that if we follow those original instructions from that particular land base.
I think if we get into this super-cosmopolitism, we tend to think everybody and everything is fungible across territories and I think then that doesn't respect, again, people's relationship to their specific lands and the spirituality that's tied to them.
[Q] I wanted to say... What you stated about how things lose their focus and how many times causes become the economics of doing good and one prime example that's happening in Canada, Kanada, right now, is what's called the Matrimonial Real Property Rights, and that's in conjunction with aboriginal women in this country. And what's happened with this issue is that it's based on the terms of aboriginal women's perspectives.
Simply, it's based on safety. That's all were calling for because women don't hold land in Kanada. We don’t hold land. It follows the patriarchal lineage. So we say that when there's a domestic dispute, what happens most times is that the women and children have to leave, and when the women and children leave they're forced into a setting, most times urban, where they can't survive even if they tried.
But nonetheless, the matrimonial property right has now moved to this place where the present government is presenting it as if "ooh, aboriginal women are now getting a say, you're getting access to matrimonial real property rights and there's gonna be this division of 50/50 of everything", and what we're saying as aboriginal women... the government is saying "Oh, we consulted with the with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada." Yes, they did these things as our presenter was talking about. Hand over money, and now they're calling it consultations and we never for a moment understood it as a consultation and we stated that clearly, and even the talks that did happen only probably was like 0.03 percent of the aboriginal population, so matrimonial property rights as it's being presented by the Canadian government is just that. It's economics, it's another way of getting at aboriginal land, and it's again through and on the backs of our women.
[AS] Thank you for that
[Q] Hi Andrea, I want to thank you for your talk and I just want to address the issue of the indigenous of Latin America, in the Amazon especially. What’s happening there now is they are being physically extinct, and one of the main reasons is Canadian and American mining companies who are going there to mine our resources. I want to know how these links can be made clear.
[AS] I think on one hand this is one of the internalized colonialisms that has happened, were thinking that south of the border is not indigenous somehow at this point, so even when you go to say, UN events there's often a huge divide between indigenous peoples in Latin America and in Canada and in the US in particular is like the worst. So I think one, we have to recognize these borders have been set up primarily to make sure we can't build huge indigenous movements and it just makes no sense because the movements are so much larger in Latin America and we would have so much more political strength. So I think it's why it's critical... maybe this goes back to the world citizenship idea... I think of the words global solidarity, recognizing that there's no such thing as self-determination for one nation. We're all governed by these logics of capitalism, white supremacy and settler-colonialism, so if we're not part of a global movement to dismantle these collectively, no nation's going to survive. I just think it has to be developed as part of our ethos.
[Q} Thank you. This is a bit of a follow-up questions in terms of one of the strategies you were outlining. But I realized when you were talking about what the Zapatistas did in terms of a prefigurative state model it's going to look very different in Canada or the US but I think there is a tension in terms of taking on services that have been provided by the state. There's battles within the left on that. In Canada, think healthcare is the epitome of that. People fought to get healthcare from the state and so now they want to defend that rather than saying "let's take that over ourselves" and I think that tension can exist in other areas and I'm wondering if you've dealt with that or if you have any further thoughts on how to deal with that issue of letting gains go or allowing neoliberalism to take tasks away from the state under the guise of doing it ourselves, for ourselves.
[AS] I think that's an excellent question again I don't think has a simple solution but I tend to think of it not so much as letting go because for one thing, I think pretty much everybody has to have a job in some industrial complex. If it's not the academic-industrial complex, it's the non-profit industrial complex or whatever. So wherever you are, why not try to squeeze as much space out of that as possible and get as much out of it as you can as possible. I think what tends to go wrong is when that's our sole investment and I think that if we have one foot in whatever place we're trying to make space but we had another foot in the independent movement that was trying to build something else, one, I think we'd be stronger in the industrial complex where we have a day job because we'd have people behind us, and two we'd have a movement holding us accountable, so I see room for a "both/and" strategy. It’s like the ??acedemia staffing??, we have these tenure battles, I was stuck in one but I think it would be very politically limiting if we thought liberatory education was going to happen in the academic-industrial complex and I would hope we would start to think of building alternative educational models that really are liberating. And the more we did that I think we'd actually make more progress in the academic-industrial complex at the same time.
so I see it as a multiple "both/and" strategy, I don't think there's a "purest" place to work where you're not implicated in evilness in some way, so why it's again about accountability, having a movement of people behind you to help adjudicate those issues.
[Q] Thank you. Great talk and I loved your book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. You mentioned twice the issue of Israel/Palestine and up until recently that seemed to be a topic that was mostly carried out by Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews. Why do you think that's an important topic to bring up and does it have ramifications in the North American Context for liberation?
[AS] I think it has profound implications in a number of ways. One thing is... I think the assumption that if you have a critique of Israel you are therefore anti-Semitic again rests on the assumption that the way to liberate an oppressed group is through a nation-state, so I think that's assumption behind the inability to make that critique. If we understand the nation-state is in fact organized state violence that isn't going to liberated anybody then we should be able to critique all states and then start to ask ourselves "What would be truly liberating for the world?" When you do that, then you can stop having this thing of saying "Either you care about anti-Semitism committed against Jewish people or you care about Palestinian liberation.” When things are presented in a dualistic way you have to ask yourselves "Who framed the debate in that manner and who is benefiting from that debate?" And of course who's benefiting from that is US imperialism and also it's allowing US imperialism to not look at its own entrenched settler-colonialism that is foundational to its very being. So I feel the states of Israel and the US are completely interlinked and I think it behooves us to call into question the terms of the debate and say that there's a different way we can look at these issues to foster a movement of global liberation for everyone. But that's one of many things we can say about it and I think it's critical that we make this central to all liberation struggles and not see this as... Again it's always framed as "it's two groups that don't get along" and recognize it as a settler-colonial issue that needs to be addressed as such.