#LiberationEdition Part 2
#LiberationEdition Part 2: Last month, we presented part one of a two part series about the tools and methodologies people have developed towards the goal of liberation. We explored suffrage, economic empowerment and intellectual thought as fertile ground to gather and arrive at the myriad of ways we’ve carved out liberated zones. Visit our Medium Page for the full essay. In this edition, we examine organizing and spirituality as avenues for our collective freedom dreams.
“I can’t pretend to be hopeful,” a friend said as we chatted over Zoom. It was the evening of the election. We still didn’t know which candidate would be elected to head the United States’s highest office.
Liberation for racialized and marginalized people represents apocalypse, or a radical change, for the Western world. We would be remiss if we did not invoke the Combahee River Collective’s 1974 statement: “We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy.”
The Combahee River Collective laid the groundwork for intersectional politics and Black feminism. “You could trace the collective’s start back to the early ’70s in New York City. Future members, including co-founder Barbara Smith, attended the regional meetings of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) in 1973. The next year, these women left NBFO to define their own politics,” writes Arielle Gray in WBUR, “They took their name, the Combahee River Collective, from a book Smith owned detailing the historic raid on Combahee River and the instrumental part Harriet Tubman played in the military operation that freed 750 slaves.”
The group was active in and around Massachusetts for almost a decade. “Members of the collective were actively involved in political struggles across Massachusetts, including desegregation in Boston schools and community campaigns against police brutality. In 1979, the collective was spurred to action when 12 black women were murdered in Boston within the span of five months. […] This culminated in a 500 person march on April 28, 1979 at the Boston Common where women protested racial and sexual violence.”
The Boston-bred collective’s landmark essay mapped the margins of organizing, political-economic systems and identity. The group’s political and analytical contribution represented an important interruption in popular discussions about freedom. What we’ve learned from the Collective is the importance of shared definition and intersectionality. Our definition of liberation must include, and center, those at the periphery in order to truly create change.
Spirituality has also undergirded some of the most powerful liberatory movements across the world. When we speak of spirituality broadly, we are referring to the spectrum of religious experiences. Spirituality has existed for generations as a mechanism for working with and against daily struggle, as well as oppressive systems.
“[F]aith in a system of belief — religious belief — enabled endurance, forged leadership, and revealed opportunity to be seized. Although for freed men and women prosperity, ownership, safety, and self-determination were thinkable, hungered-for goals, desire alone could not, did not animate the treacherous journey they took into unknown territory to build cities,” observes Toni Morrison in her 2019 book of essays The Source of Self Regard, “The history of African Americans that narrows or dismisses religion in both their collective and individual life, in their political and aesthetic activity, is more than incomplete — it may be fraudulent.”
In the early 15th century, scores of Africans captured and placed aboard ships awaiting departure from the coast of West Africa were unable to carry any tangible item or relic with them. Though they were disconnected from their homelands, their relationship with indigenous religions and culture endured. Their cultures were a way to conjure hope. They were healing medicines and practices. They were an escape. Spirituality offered emotional support and guidance. According to Harvard professor Dr. Jacob Olupona indigenous spiritualities are, “a way of life, and it can never be separated from the public sphere. Religion informs everything in traditional African society, including political art, marriage, health, diet, dress, economics, and death.”
Today, these lifeways are regularly practiced both on the continent and in the diaspora. Vox reports: “With the pandemic and the anxiety and the fear and all of those emotions that all of us are dealing with right now … in the beginning my spiritual practice helped keep me connected and grounded. It helped me understand this moment in the larger context,” says Akissi Britton, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University and Lucumí priestess for 36 years.
Faith and religion have long been regarded as the cornerstone of Black political life in the United States.
In North Carolina, the Reverend Dr. William Barber is “enlisting a broad-based alliance of Christians, Muslims, Jews, nonbelievers, blacks, Latinos, poor whites, feminists, environmentalists, and others to protest the conservative agenda of the state legislature.” The Reverend Dr. Barber has been leading religious progressives to restore morality to public life through a program called Moral Mondays since 2013.
The New Yorker reports: “On April 29, 2013, a Monday, Barber led a group of some seventy-five people, including members of the Historic Thousands coalition, to the state legislature, to protest what Barber has said was the legislature’s attempt to persecute minorities and the disadvantaged. […] The protesters disrupted the legislature’s deliberations and confronted Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the House. Police arrested Barber and sixteen others. This was the start of Moral Mondays. The group returned the following week, and nearly twice as many people were arrested. By the end of the term, fourteen weeks later, more than a thousand protesters had been arrested. The Moral Monday demonstrations continued for four years, with tens of thousands of participants. The protests are largely credited with helping Roy Cooper, a Democrat, narrowly defeat McCrory in the 2016 gubernatorial race.”
Though these practices differ greatly in their methods and beliefs, the outcomes are similar. In his bestselling book, Race Matters, Dr. Cornel West asserts that nihilism is a threat to survival and liberation. “Nihilism,” West describes, “is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine … it is, far more, the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaningless, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.” According to Dr. West the way to fight national oppression is through hope and self-love.
“What are we talking about when we speak of revolution if not a free society made up of whole individuals?” In her pivotal essay, On the Issue of Roles, Toni Cade Bambara explains that if we want to have a revolution, we have to craft revolutionary relationships, in action, not simply in rhetoric. Furthermore, a revolution cannot be created by conforming to existing roles in relationships already defined by the systems we want to overthrow. We have to practice creating new relationships. Though the essay primarily focuses on gender it’s thesis speaks to the heart of our argument today. As we continue to remake society through liberatory action we must remember that no matter our tool or method, we are the first frontier toward the world we want and need.
Liberation Reading List: