NOTE: This new zine is part of a limited-edition zine bundle I’m making available via Button Poetry. I normally just give all my zines away for free; the bundle is meant for people who aren’t able to see me in-person; the price covers just a portion of the printing costs. Preorders are available now.
As with all my zines, the FULL text is free and accessible online. Especially with this one, which is less of my own writing and more a curated list of cool quotes and resources, it’s important to me that people who need it can get it.
Over the last decade that I’ve been traveling and performing, a big pet project of mine has been finding ways to invite people into activist work. Even when I’m brought in to facilitate conversations specifically about masculinity, or consent, or whiteness or whatever, I try to help those conversations “land” in a space of agency and possibility—yes, the problems we face are big and intimidating, but they’re not inevitable or insurmountable.
That’s a simple idea, but in this historical moment, it’s easy to lose sight of. I think more people than ever are fired up and want to do something, but there are also more “off-ramps” for that energy than ever before. Our outrage can get channeled into performative social media posting, into passively ingesting hyper-online leftist podcaster/youtuber content, into voting and nothing beyond voting, into cool-kid doomer cynicism, into anxiety around being the most politically-tuned-in individual we can be, and on and on.
So many of the young people I work with today have incredible politics, light-years ahead of where I was at their age, but not a lot of experience with, or exposure to, perspectives on organizing. And to be clear, I’m not any kind of expert, or even a full-time organizer. I’ve just had the privilege of having some great mentors and being plugged into powerful movement spaces, so I’m trying to use what platform I have to pass along some of what I’ve learned.
This zine (what’s a zine?) is the synthesis of a bunch of conversations related to all that. It mixes some foundational perspectives with some really recent ones. Something that should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway because we’re on the internet: it’s not comprehensive. It’s not “everything you’ll ever need to know about activism.” It’s just a 12-page zine. The idea is that it’s a sampling, a small collection of potential starting points, doorways into movement work.
Because crisis often happens (or feels like it happens) all at once; preventing crisis is longer-term, all-the-time work. This is about how we might step into that work.
The full text of the zine is below; as is the case with all my zines, I also have physical copies, and you get them for free at events where I’m performing. If you’re an educator, activist, or just someone who can put them to use, feel free to reach out (you can contact me via my booking form) and we can discuss bulk orders. Instagram carousel version here.
Of What Future Are These The Wild, Early Days? Resources for Emerging Movement-Builders
“Okay,” the young man challenged. “So what’s the answer?”
“There isn’t one,” I told him.
“No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?” He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.
“No,” I said. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers—at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”Octavia E. Butler, A Few Rules for Predicting the Future (published in Essence magazine in the year 2000; here’s a link to a PDF)
An Offering, An Invitation
In my work, I meet a lot of people who are interested in stepping into the world of organizing and activism, but aren’t sure where to start. Of course, there’s no map, no one answer to those kinds of questions. A lot of the time, we learn by doing; we develop our activist toolkit through practice, through relationships, and through showing up (however that might look for us).
That being said, there are some powerful guiding stars out there. This zine is just me passing along some resources, readings, and quotes that have been useful to me.
We are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning—getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.Ella Baker, quoted in Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement
Taking that First Step
“Changing the world” isn’t a destination; it’s a direction. And we don’t have to have all the answers before we can take a step in that direction, before we can show up. But showing up can mean a lot of different things, and a good first step is to research. What organizations and efforts already exist in your area? Sign up for email lists, follow them on social media, and get looped in. Sometimes, we have to build something new, but a lot of the time, there’s already good stuff happening that we can support. As adrienne maree brown writes in Emergent Strategy, No one is special, and everyone is needed.
I would call our work to change the world ‘science fictional behavior’—being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now, today, will shape the future, tomorrow, the next generations… It is so important that we fight for the future, get into the game, get dirty, get experimental.adrienne maree brown, quoted in Three Lessons from Emergent Strategy (I’m quoting the article instead of the book because while I’d definitely recommend the book, the article is a good, online/accessible recap that will hopefully encourage people to read the book)
A Key Concept: Solidarity
Bringing people together in movements, creating solidarity, means representing ourselves not primarily as individuals, but as members of communities of struggle.Angela Davis, An Extraordinary Moment
[Solidarity] is not about saviorism or about elites determining who should get what relief, which is how charity looks. It’s instead about all of us getting together and practically just trying to meet each other’s needs and solve immediate problems together, in a very grassroots, bottom-up way, instead of a top-down way.Dean Spade, Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid & How to Organize in the Age of Coronavirus
Find your “why”… every protest you attend, every event you organize, every article you write, every job you take or don’t take are all just strategies to get to and serve your “why.” They are not the end goals in themselves… they are all tiny steps, tiny puzzle pieces, part of the strategy to get to your “why” and serve it.Jamie Margolin, Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It
If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.Often attributed to Lilla Watson, who insists it came out of the collective effort of Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s
Find Your Political Home
One of the biggest myths about social change is that it’s sparked by brilliant, fearless individuals. But real change comes from everyday people working together in activist organizations, unions, student groups, neighborhood mutual aid collectives, and other collaborative efforts. After researching, a next step might be attending an event, checking out a meeting, or sending an email for more info on how to get involved and/or support. As Mariame Kaba says, Everything worthwhile is done with other people.
When I feel overwhelmed… I ask myself:
Mariame Kaba, Let This Radicalize You (with Kelly Hayes)
- What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
- Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
- Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
- How can I be constructive?
…and Your Role In It
Everyone doing everything all the time is a recipe for burnout. It’s good to see how issues intersect, but it’s also good to think about where our passions and strengths align and what role we might play. From frontline organizing, to media and narrative-shifting, to direct action, to electoral work, to political education, to mutual aid, to fundraising and beyond—showing up doesn’t look the same for everyone, and even our own roles/issues may evolve over time. As Deepa Iyer asks in Social Change Now: A Guide for Reflection and Connection: What fills your cup with energy and what drains it?
When we are in right relationship with our values, when we are connected to like-minded ecosystems of people and groups, and when we are confident about the roles we can play, there is less of a chance that we come up against co-optation, competition, and destructive forms of conflict.Deepa Iyer, interviewed in From chaos to ecosystem: A tool for social change
On “Organizing” vs. “Activism”
This is actually a section that didn’t fit in the zine itself but I wanted to include it in the digital version. Here’s a useful perspective on that question, also from Mariame Kaba, in conversation with Eve Ewing:
Eve L. Ewing: Let’s talk more about organizing and activism because I think that that is a really important distinction. I do not identify as an activist. I am very frequently identified as an activist, which I find very puzzling. What do you see as the difference between those things?
Mariame Kaba: I think that people who are activists are folks who are taking action on particular issues that really move them in some specific way, but activism only demands that you personally take on the issue. That means signing petitions. Being on a board of a particular organization that’s doing good in the world.
That way, activist is super broad, and that’s why people call people activists. Your individual action, for example, of writing, can be a form of activism in the sense that it wants to educate people and get them to take action in their own way. You are in that way potentially being activist in your orientation, at least, if not in identity.
Organizers, however, can’t exist solo. Because who the hell are you organizing? You can’t just decide to wake up one morning and be like, “I’m just going to do this shit.” If you’re organizing, other people are counting on you, but more importantly, your actions are accountable to somebody else.
Organizing is both science and art. It is thinking through a vision, a strategy, and then figuring out who your targets are, always being concerned about power, always being concerned about how you’re going to actually build power in order to be able to push your issues, in order to be able to get the target to actually move in the way that you want to.from Mariame Kaba: Everything Worthwhile Is Done With Other People
Seeing the Bigger Picture
The quotes in this section are from the anthology All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson, and continue the thread of affirming that “being a good individual” is not enough to reach the sustainable, systemic, meaningful change we need. Of course, striving to make sure our personal actions align with our values is a good thing, but as the editors put it: We cannot, we must not, go it alone. To focus only on what we can do as individuals, instead of what we can do together, will mean failure.
The goal is not self-purification, but structural change.Leah Cardamore Stokes, from All We Can Save
Our steady resistance forms cracks in the world of profit margins. It transitions us away from self-destruction. We are a thorn in the side of a world that believes it must extract to exist, a bone-deep reminder there are other ways of being and people willing to take personal risk for something greater than any one individual.Tara Houska, Zhaabowekwe, Couchiching First Nation, from All We Can Save
Process and Product, Soil and Seeds
So much of this zine, so far, has been about the importance of showing up in community with others. Collective struggle is the only way to change the world, but it isn’t always easy. Activist spaces aren’t free from the racism, sexism, and other -isms that exist everywhere else, and people’s egos, insecurities, and/or harmful behaviors can manifest in countless ways. Knowing that is a step toward noticing it, which is a step toward doing something about it. We have the power to work on ourselves, build healthy relationships, and cultivate just, life-affirming, joyful spaces.
The soil is more important than the seeds. Almost anything will grow in rich, nutritious soil, whereas it’s hard to get anything to grow if the soil is barren, toxic and won’t hold moisture. The seeds are our projects, our initiatives, our campaigns, our organizations, our institutions that we want to build. The soil is the compost of beliefs, ideas, values, and narratives that create the environment in which we’re working.Ricardo Levins Morales, Tending the Soil
Note: I know Ricardo’s quote here is referring more to the idea of narrative and narrative-shifting as an important part of movement work, but I also think it fits in this conversation about how we build together. There’s so much more to talk about on this subject; a few potential connections:
- When We Fall Apart: A Movement Primer
- To Transform Conflict in Movements, We Must Learn How to Stay in It Together
- Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement
Listening and Learning
There are countless books and other resources to recommend, and not enough space here to list them all. But here are five great quotes from guests on Movement Memos, a podcast that regularly speaks to the spirit of what this zine is all about.
I think we should all get acquainted with the work that’s going on around us and figure out what engaging with it looks like for us. We won’t always be a part of everything, but we can be mindful of the ways our work and well-being intersect, and we can help keep each other afloat… I am not saying organizing is easy (because it’s hard), or that losing doesn’t suck, (because it does), and, as activists, we lose a lot. But we also succeed, in some really important ways, just by modeling for people what justice and reciprocal care can look like. Because it’s not suffering alone that radicalizes people. Our job is to make our movements into spaces that people want to imagine themselves within.Kelly Hayes, host of Movement Memos, from Attacks on Trans Rights and Abortion Rights Are “Bound Together”
If you’re frozen, if you just feel stuck, what’s a way that you can start slowly wiggling? What’s one thing that you can do? What is an action you can take? And when you start moving, you do the thing, then it can embolden you to be like, “Okay, I can do something else.”Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, interviewed in Disability Justice Organizers Dream Big and Resist a Culture of Disposability
Understand that the politicians are not going to be your friend. Only overwhelming political pressure is going to force them to do anything… if you’re going to fight the most powerful empire on the planet, you have to be willing to stand up to power and you have to be willing to organize across communities. The only thing that overcomes massive capital and massive military power is massive community solidarity.Kawenaʻulaokalā Kapahua, interviewed in O’ahu Organizers Are Defending the Earth Against US Militarism
As painful as it is to do this work and feel like things are just getting worse, I still show up to the work every day with such an unbelievable amount of love for my people, both my colleagues and my community… It gives me hope to watch people just throw down and show up.Chase Strangio, interviewed in Attacks on Trans Youth Are a Fascist “Moral Battering Ram”
[Rather than] the idea of individual empowerment, we need to feel empowered through collective struggle, through realizing that even though what we are facing is so daunting, if we each play a part, we chip away… we actually all have a role to play because it is all connected.Harsha Walia, interviewed in Harsha Walia: “To Become Ungovernable Is Central”
Hope and Humility
A few perspectives that have kept me grounded:
Political philosophy is not just something you obtain, it’s something that you develop through your lifetime.Yuri Kochiyama, quoted in Akemi Kochiyama’s Reflections on my Grandma Yuri, Malcolm X, and the Past, Present, and Future of Black-Asian Solidarity
Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
To take a cynical stance is to strive to seem worldly, to position yourself as someone who can’t be fooled – though cynicism is often foolish about what is possible and how the world works… We who have materially safe and comfortable lives do not have the right to surrender on behalf of others. We have the obligation to act in solidarity with them. This begins by recognizing that the future has not yet been decided, because we are deciding it now.Rebecca Solnit, Why climate despair is a luxury
It can be overwhelming to witness all the injustices of the moment; the good news is that *they’re all connected.* So if your little corner of work involves pulling at one of the threads, you’re helping to unravel the whole damn cloth.Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (from a tweet that can’t be accessed now but has been quoted all over)
There is no light at the end of this tunnel, so it’s a good thing we brought matches
I figured I’d end this zine with a line from my own work. That’s a quote from a song called Matches, and the words on the cover are from my book, Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, But Enough. Thanks for reading. A few other posts here that may be of interest:
- My Tedx Talk: Five Things Art Taught Me About Activism
- Hope Does Not Glimmer; It Burns: Quotes on Hope, Resistance & Possibility (Zine)
- Consolidated List of Activist Resources
- A deeper dive into how voting and electoral activism might fit into the broader movement ecosystem
- An alternate/older version of this “entry points for aspiring activists” zine idea: For People Who Want to “Do” Something But Don’t Know What to Do