Radical work

A Reading Note

In the penultimate essay in Beyond Survival, Mimi Kim writes about Creative Interventions, an organization that formed to work on transformative justice projects in Oakland in 2004. Kim shares lucid and nuanced reports of how the projects succeeded, and where she saw opportunities for future efforts. In particular, she notes the challenges with sharing these kinds of analyses:

Beyond the threat of incorporation and co-optation was that of the rapid devaluation and disappearance of our concepts, technologies, and institutions. Community accountability and transformative justice may serve the interests of grassroots, marginalized communities, so long as states do not gain the power to control and determine their content. The subtler violence of competition in the marketplace of innovation is equally threatening to our social movement’s sustainability.

The act of publishing can hone analysis and disseminate knowledge across social movements and among important allies. It can also contribute to obsolescence. The market’s thirst for quickly consumable information can move from public knowledge to stories of accomplishments, or even to postmortems on the failures of utopian visions. Efforts to identify limitations can unwittingly fuel skepticism and demoralization in a social movement project that is facing considerable odds. Given the ambitiousness of our collective projects and the infinitesimal resources fueling them, the pervasiveness of our efforts and doggedness in their pursuit cannot be underestimated. Lest these stories become lost archaeological remnants rather than the foundation for new and lasting structures, our radical work is to embody these lessons in daily practice and to push for greater collective impact.

Dixon & Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Beyond Survival, page 319

I think this is a really smart point and one I don’t often see articulated: the way efforts like transformative justice (or police abolition, or any number of other social movements) get reported and rinsed out of the news cycle can cause a lot of harm. The realities of online publishing can drive overly simplistic stories where nuance is needed, and worse, they create appetites for unreasonable success stories or dramatic failures where the realities are usually more complicated. I think nearly everyone working in media knows this, and many are making an effort to avert the harm that comes from it. I’m uncertain if anyone is succeeding in that effort.

Related books

Beyond Survival

Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Featuring essays and interviews from grassroots activists and practitioners of transformative justice, this collection offers clear, practical, and brave advice about how to respond to violence and crises in your community.