Breaking Tradition

For the past week, clients and friends have been sharing their perspectives, grief, and trauma triggered by the ongoing crisis of child detention and the separation of children and their parents based on Trump’s expanded immigration policies, and asking for my thoughts.

I will be brief, because the atrocities of the moment in many ways speak for themselves, and because there are many people fighting against ICE, borders, and detention out there that I will link to (and many more that I am not yet aware of!).


If you are outraged by children being separated from their families, by the obvious white supremacy of immigration law, and the horrifying conditions in detention centers, then it is not enough to be against the current policies or even just the Trump regime.  Every day in this country parents are taken from their children, children from their families, people from their communities, and put into detention centers, prisons, and jails.  This could be triggered by not being able to afford traffic tickets, by living in public housing in a gentrifying neighborhood, not being white, or trying to leave a country destroyed by US and European colonialism.  As many others have pointed out, the last month of immigration detention and the torture of children and adults is nothing new in this country.  It is not only what this country is founded on (slavery, incarceration, colonialism, Indian Boarding Schools, sterilization of black and indigenous folks, etc etc), it a mechanism that this country and the whole of the world is currently functioning through. This does NOT make the current moment any less urgent.  In fact, it makes it an incredibly crucial time to act, end suffering, and build a better world.

We live in a global society dominated by the capitalist mode of production. To break that down, it means that we live in a world where the main way that we make and remake the world around us is through alienating (ie selling) our labor and creativity to someone(s) else in exchange for pay (“wages”) that often differ based on race, education, gender, geographic location, and national origin.  We use these wages to pay for things that we need like housing, food, transportation to get to and from work, and entertainment to keep us from feeling desperately depressed.  A society that is based on this way of producing and reproducing has inherent inequality, and is by nature unfulfilling.  When we sell our labor to someone else in exchange for something that we then have to give away, we become much less than what we are.  We cease to be valuable as humans simply because we exist. Our love, creativity, capacity to heal others, and hard work become valued only if we can sell it to someone else.  It is no surprise that in a world build around these types of relations that the lives of those whose labor has been meant to cost the least are treatedas less than human.

In addition to requiring people to be treated as non-humans in a hierarchical fashion primarily based on race and gender, capitalism makes us feel deeply isolated.  In a capitalist mode of production, we have to work along side other people, but what we get in exchange only comes to ourselves as individuals.  We are often penalized for helping others, and encouraged to compete.  For many of us, competing with others and acting alone is a means of survival, even when it contradicts our other means of survival, which is to work together.

It is this contradiction, built into our alienation under capitalism, that makes fighting against dehumanization, white supremacy, torture, incarceration, colonialism, and war seem impossible.  So many people right now are asking “but what can I do?”  Of course this is the question we ask when we are disciplined daily to fend for ourselves, but it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, isolated, scared, and traumatized–feelings many of my friends and clients have expressed recently.

Although capitalism is the dominant mode of production, bringing with it white supremacy and patriarchy and nourishing itself with exploitation, murder, and cages– it is far from the only possibility for us.  In fact, capitalism was only established through a great deal of war, and met incredible resistance in its global spread in the 15th century*.  And people have not stopped resisting.  As we face acute moments of expression of this inherently inhumane way of being, we have endless opportunities to imagine and build new ways of relating.  When we face the worst things we can imagine, it forces us to think about what world we WANT to live in.  We need to be able to dream of a new world–not one in which families are together but in cages; or where fewer people rot in prison; or where more refugees get visas while others stay in camps or lose their lives.  Instead, we need to envision a world where everyone can pursue their most human needs and desires, where we can eat good food together, build creative projects, never fear being in a cage/murdered by the police/beaten by our husbands.  And we need to actively create this world.  Not by wondering what I can do, but by thinking critically and collectively about what needs to get done.  Maybe that means building people’s defense centers at the border that can intercept patrol agents, maybe it means calling on neighbors instead of the cops when we’re in trouble, maybe it means having trained community members to administer health and medicine so that no one is left to die because they can’t afford a hospital bill. The real struggle is in modelling the world we want to see and in that way bringing it into being.

The capacity to survive in a world without shackles is in all of our hands.  It is not easy to manifest, and there are immense obstacles that keep us from using everything we have for good.  But moments like these call on us to do everything we can to struggle; not just a longer chain, but for true freedom, .

Looking to get involved in ongoing struggles?  Check out:

No More Deaths

Brooklyn Defense Committee

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee  (who has endorsed the strike called by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak against all prisons and detention centers Aug 21-Sept 9)

Ice Free-NYC

Bronx Social Center

Black Youth Project 100

Or get together with your community and discuss what you need, and what is necessary on a global scale and steps to take together.  Model the world you want to see!

*There are many great histories of early capitalism and resistance to it.  My favorites are The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Redicker, and Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.

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