How do we work to align feelings, thoughts, and actions (heart, head, hands) with the world we’d like to see? How do we go about our everyday lives for the “ought to be,” for justice?
I’m thankful for Jardana Peacock (of the Liberatory Leadership Project) for modeling a contemplative writing practice that I’ve been using to think through these questions. At the end of each day, I’ve been filling in the answer to her prompt:
“Today resistance looks like …”
I immediately connected with this practice and the way I see Jardana enacting it in her life—situating self-care alongside community care and direct action. I see a connection to my focus on the everydayness of living a life for justice. I see how variable answers help us see resistance as many different things, including writing, reading, work, play, connection, friendship, reflection, practice, art, awareness. I see the potential for self-reflection—for noticing and questioning my habits and the privileges associated with these habits. And I see how this writing prompt makes daily resistance seem both possible and sustainable, especially in a time of chaos and uproar.
So, this past week I’ve been recording my own daily (and horribly incomplete and messy) responses. I’ve debated whether to share these responses, engaging in self-doubt, vulnerability, and fear. My inner judging voice has spoken up, lodging concerns that I’m not doing enough, that I’m doing more harm than good, that I’m doing only the sorts of “resistance” I find fun or comfortable, that I’m showing my privilege, that my ego is acting out … and the list goes on. Let me tell you!
Against this backdrop, I’m sharing my responses because I believe we must act, however imperfectly. I really struggle with perfectionism and with all-or-nothing thinking, but I see how both shut down the very real work we need in the world. Instead of listening to my inner judging voice, I want to listen to the still-small-and-quieter-but-brave voice that says, “Share. This might give others ideas or inspiration.”
I’ll always be writing from my position as a white woman with layers of privilege shaping my perspective. Still, I’m coming to believe that my voice is needed, too, if only to get other white folks to think about privilege, to act with the responsibility that comes with privilege, and to develop the readiness and resiliency needed for a lifelong commitment to justice.
So, I’m sharing my responses to Jardana’s writing prompt because daily writing can bring mindfulness and intention (in addition to reflection and recording) toward daily acts of resistance. I’m also sharing some of the stickiness—like my ego getting in the way and my privilege stepping out—that’s come up through this list-making exercise.
Here goes. Deep breath.
What resistance has looked like for me this past week—followed by some observations:
Today resistance looks like …
- sleeping in (so greatly needed after a LATE night following nationwide bans, detainments, legal actions, and airport protests);
- watering houseplants and noticing new growth;
- registering to participate with the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism;
- sending follow-up messages to community partners with America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin (both connected with my spring community-based learning course, “Writing for Social Justice”);
- rewriting an article abstract (arguing for cross-campus collaborations for community-based learning);
- enjoying my dad’s first-ever visit to Milwaukee—with brunch at the local café and the afternoon attending a friend’s concert (an activity my dad dearly loves that gave me time to really think and feel with the music);
- drafting an initial publicity plan for an upcoming racial justice workshop; and
- working to observe and affirm my boundaries by repeating my now-nightly mantra: “I release and bless the energy of the day.”
Today resistance looks like …
- taking time for a LONG processing conversation with a best friend;
- preparing, eating, and sharing yummy vegan food;
- planning upcoming class sessions and assignments for “Writing for Social Justice”;
- commenting on student writing and undergraduate research projects;
- writing to Uber about why I’d like to delete my account (starting the process);
- engaging in hard talks with my dad (while spending extended time with him and enjoying the chance to build our relationship);
- participating in a 2-hour publicity planning meeting re: an all-day racial justice workshop (here in Milwaukee—April 1st!);
- signing a few online petitions and calling my state senator about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Cabinet nominations, and Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL);
- preventing myself from getting sick by taking allium cepa (homeopathic remedy) and repeating mantras throughout the day; and
- winding down with yoga-asana and Reiki before an early bedtime.
Today resistance looks like …
- showing up as fully as possible for students (in classes, conferences, and advising);
- appreciating the support of my morning hangout/writing group;
- submitting several recommendation letters for fomer students;
- sharing ticket information, coordinating with friends, and planning to attend upcoming racial justice events;
- reading and reposting news and commentary via social media;
- walking to and from school (and feeling fortunate to live downtown—where I can walk—and not have to take a bus or drive a car);
- eating leftovers and super-simple vegan meals (an everyday practice);
- teaching about “the mythical norm” (Audre Lorde), survivance (Malea Powell; Gerald Vizener), and the cycles of socialization and liberation (Bobbi Harro)—all in relation to Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian;
- squeezing in moments of yoga-asana and Reiki practice throughout the day; and
- working on this blog (taking photos + brainstorming + writing) even when there are other impending due dates.
Today resistance looks like …
- allowing myself to enjoy some caffeine (sweet matcha) as a boost for the day;
- deleting Uber and signing up with the black-owned rideshare app Moovn;
- saying no to a service request that doesn’t align with my deepest commitments;
- checking into Seattle’s City Hall and tweeting Seattle Council members, asking them to divest from Wells Fargo (in support of #StartWithSeattle and #NoDAPL);
- submitting a conference proposal and working with my co-author on the related article to propose a rhetorical framework for countering microaggressions;
- allowing myself to receive Reiki through an hour-long session with Marty Tribble;
- reading the latest issue of Rethinking Schools;
- meeting with students to discuss their research (and motivations, experiences, and interventions they’d like to make in the world) late into the evening; and
- choosing bed instead of late-night writing after a total exhaustion/crying meltdown.
Today resistance looks like …
- taking a long Epsom salt bath, while reading Patricia Hill Collins in preparation for afternoon classes;
- affirming self-care (sustenance and sustainability for the “long haul”) through emails and phone calls with friends, family, and colleagues;
- teaching and conferencing—and then writing about these relational acts through an advising philosophy statement;
- starting a new e-course with guided meditation to call back energy by Chani Nicolas;
- appreciating a network of campus and community partners who are teaching me about WordPress, Medium, and other important-for-the-work tech stuff;
- signing a few more online petitions and continuing to post via social media; and
- wearing snow pants to/from school to honor my desire for warmth, especially on a very cold day!
Today resistance looks like …
- finding my way back to the gym after almost a week away (it’s been a wild week!);
- designing a new course I’ll teach in the fall—focused on writers’ rights and asking, “Who has a right to speak? To write? When, where, and under what conditions? How does our social positioning (i.e., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other intersectional identities) impact our rights as writers?”
- nourishing my soul with friends and colleagues over lunch and dinner meetings focused on firing things up in writing, teaching, and community engagement;
- processing with my mom some hurt through social media and thinking about our own participation (and how to stay in the work and be true to ourselves);
- continuing to heal longstanding back pain through acupuncture and cupping;
- gathering groceries and pre-cooked meals for the weekend from a local coop;
- responding to plans to hold a teach-in on February 17th (in alignment with plans for a nationwide general strike);
- curling with my spouse, while sending Reiki for collective healing; and
- getting back up after only an hour or so in bed when my heART desired writing more than sleep.
Today resistance looks like …
- reading the first of three graphic novels in the series by/about John Lewis, March;
- following up on a campus climate issue involving racial microaggressions;
- sending activist love letters and thank you notes and other handwritten mail J;
- getting organized for the week ahead, checking in with students, planning classes, and completing service responsibilities;
- taking an afternoon walk along Lake Michigan in deep conversation and connection with my spouse (thanks, Jonathan!);
- refueling via time soaking in an Epsom salt bath, talking with a good friend, and moving on my yoga mat; and
- reflecting and setting goals while drafting this blog post and feeling my way through vulnerability.
Now I’m imagining Jardana asking, “What have you noticed through this writing exercise?”
Centering Resistance Around Education and Healing (My Work and Spiritual Life)
As soon as I began record-keeping, I noticed that my daily forms of “resistance” center around (1) my work as an educator (writer-researcher-teacher) or (2) my self-care and spiritual practices (e.g., yoga, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture, walking, and eating vegan). This surprised me, though it likely shouldn’t have. I’m an educator and a healer, so it follows that my resistance would center around these activities.
First, these observations help me feel especially appreciative for a job that allows me to engage in social justice work daily—with and alongside others and in ways that encourage both my own learning and my community engagement. I often grumble about injustices I witness at work, so it’s refreshing to feel appreciation. Through my work, I clarify and make actionable my deepest commitments. It’s a privilege to have a job that matters in the world. May I act on the responsibility that comes with this privilege. May I use it well.
Second, these observations help me value healing and spiritual practices as part of (not just the precursor to or the result of) activist/resistance work. Truly, self-work matters, as Jardana argues in “Winning Our Movements Inside and Out: Shifting the Social Justice Back into our Work.” I’ve had a number of conversations with white folks recently about how to be in social justice work for “the long haul,” for the lifetime. If we understand justice as both the end and the means (an idea I hope to address in a future blog post), then we need to enact now the lives we’d like to see. After all, we cannot get to justice down a road of injustice. Such work means healing ourselves and our inherited ways of being in the world (e.g., inherited and internalized white supremacy). Such work means rethinking how we take up, use, and exist within space. Rethinking our ways of being in the world. Rethinking our very being, which has been assaulted through racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of injustice that create deep hurts—trauma—for us all.
This trauma is NOT THE SAME for each of us, as we positioned differently across privilege and power, facing differences in degree and in kind. Yet, this trauma results from/in shared inequities that undermine humanity. For those of us conditioned by and positioned within white supremacy, this supremacy denies human connection, equal rights, and equality. Further, the trauma of supremacy underlies the dysfunctional ways we continue to relate with self, with others, and within institutions.
Together, these observations bring me back to the problem of white folks colonizing the spaces and practices of others. My resistance lists read clearly as the product of a white, well-educated, upper-/middle-class, able-bodied woman in the United States—someone fairly close to Lorde’s “mythical norm.” This means that my resistance involves a lot of un-learning, destabilizing, and upturning of what is assumed to be normative. It also means a lot of stepping in and smelling my own shit (and, interestingly enough, using frequent poop emoticons and metaphors, it seems) … It means getting good with the reality that I’ll always be doing harm, even as I’m trying to do good. It means living in paradox and mess.
Still, here’s the question I’m still not sure about, still wrestling with, still feeling shitty about, even as I press “publish” on this post: Does sharing lists of actions that are clearly “normative” uphold “the norm” that I’m working to de-normalize?
The Problem of Normalizing Particular Notions of “Resistance”
By raising this question, I hope to acknowledge that we not only show up for resistance differently, but these differences also represent inequitable material conditions. My privileged position enables me to participate in resistance more readily and to navigate to, from, and within resistive spaces/acts with relative ease.
To illustrate, this week I read a powerful Facebook post by Sagashus Levingston (of Infamous Mothers). Sagashus addresses how people (especially people with privilege) express a desire for more diverse leadership in social justice movements, yet at the same time, fail to recognize, value, or organize around these diverse experiences. Sagashus provides this insight into how we differently show up for the work:
“But we get uncomfortable when it comes to addressing or even talking about the REALITY of difference—the reality that they walked and you drove to the stage or that they stood in the food pantry line before you all’s meeting. You’re both there—the hero and the antihero—but the pathways to showing up this morning were different. For one, the road was smooth and clear, for the other, it was filled with hurdles and thorns. And while you’re glad they showed up, you’d rather not talk about how they showed up and what they had to go through to get there—even when, for them, their path was as normal as your morning coffee from Starbucks. Why is that?”
To echo Sagashus: why is that?
Because it means that those of us who experience privilege and power within resistance (and I’m thinking of white folks, though there are many interlocking forms of privilege at play) need to do serious self-reflection about our own lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance needs to be more variable. It would need to address and confront different sorts of lived experiences, assumptions, worldviews, and complicity.
Because resistance means rethinking everyday ways of doing things (like choosing meeting locations accessible bus or foot instead of car OR rethinking systems of public transportation and the inequities that stack up around car ownership and the racialization of space).
Because resistance invites some serious self-work—personal and collective healing that goes layers and generations deep.
Because … the reasons continue, on and on …
As I end this week of tracking my acts of resistance, I’m thinking about how much needs to change, especially in how we conceptualize this word: resistance. Jardana writes about the need for change, asking:
“We need to honestly ask ourselves and consider: what does it means to build towards love and liberation for the long haul? What needs attention individually, in our internal structures, interpersonally, and collectively in order to realize more balance? What does wellness really look like for folks across race, class, sexuality, gender, and ability? How can we expand our definitions and imaginations to create a more dynamic and expansive understanding of healing? What needs to shift, change or be enhanced within ourselves, our communities, and in our movements in order for social change to be actualized inside of ourselves and outside in the world?”
Jardana’s writing prompt “Today resistance looks like …” has invited me to explore these questions and to take notice of my habits. I’m encouraged to see that I’m getting stuff done, despite feeling especially distracted, ungrounded, and emotionally roller-coasting through this chaotic time. I’m also encouraged to see the centrality of my work and spiritual life in resistance.
At the same time, I’m going forward with serious questions about how to upset normalized notions of resistance. I’m looking for broader definitions and depictions of resistance. I’m questioning how to write about resistance—how to encourage other privileged folks to act without taking over or taking up too much space. I’m thinking about how to shift from the stance of power over into stances of power to and power with. And I’m questioning the links between resistance (critique against) and vision (critique for).
Perhaps you’ll join me in these inquiries. Perhaps you’ll join me through contemplative writing. Perhaps you’ll join me by filling in the prompt: “Today resistance looks like …”