I usually share new videos by contextualizing them a bit, but I do that IN this video, so I’ll just go ahead and post the transcript below. One thing I’ll add that isn’t in the video, though, is that this piece came together little-by-little over the past few years, and a couple of influences/reference points were Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism” and Amanda Taub’s “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” There’s also stuff like Zeynep Tufekci’s “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent” or even the episode of Last Week Tonight that dug into authoritarianism both in the US and beyond. Lots of good resources out there, and like I say in the video itself, this is much less about the specific vocabulary word and more about exploring some of the ideas underneath it.
I guess if there is a more focused “point” to this piece, it’s about exploring how authoritarianism can manifest not just as a method of governing, or a political system, but also as a set of attitudes, values, and ideals that impact a wide range of real-world issues and situations. Here’s the video, with the full transcript below (transcript contains some notes meant for the text version of this piece):
Hey- I’m about to share something new, but just to frame it a little bit: I probably said this in my last video, but since most of my poems go up on Button Poetry’s channel, I haven’t been using my own channel much. I do, however, have some plans for it for this coming year, including a series that should kick off shortly. Before any of that is released, though, I wanted to just do a little test run of my setup.
So THIS is a piece that never really found a home anywhere. It isn’t really a spoken word poem. It isn’t really an essay, or a speech. There was a specific thing I wanted to say, and so I let the content kind of drive the form… and the form it ended up taking was that of a parody of a specific 90s standup comedy routine: Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…”
So the piece is written to kind of mimic that 90s standup comic delivery style but it’s about something really serious… and actually memorizing it and turning into a performance art piece, just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. So I’m going to share it here, and I’ll also include the full text at my website. And hopefully it can be useful in some way to someone out there.
In the summer of 2020, I started an Instagram project sharing articles, essays, and other writings that I found useful or interesting. Sharing links on Twitter and Facebook is already easy; I just wanted to find a way to use what little IG platform I had/have to do something other than just promote myself (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I wanted to share some of the most powerful writing on the pandemic, abolition, anti-authoritarianism, the climate crisis, and other issues that define this moment. Here’s the list so far:
A few extended thoughts on the quote, in the context of the last few weeks.
Lots of people have been sharing this quote again lately, partly because Brené Brown, The Conscious Kid, and some other big social media accounts have shared it, but also because of how some 70 million people here in the US decided to vote in our last election. Wanted to share two thoughts.
The poem itself is really just me trying to write something for my 18 year-old self, illuminating the various arguments I’ve heard, from organizers over the years, about why and how voting matters. It’s very rarely “vote because you have to!” or “vote because it’s the only way you can have a voice!” The best arguments, or at least the ones that have been most persuasive to me, are more nuanced than that. Not that nuance is always my thing as a poet… but here’s the poem (and a link to an IG version):
I wanted to set up a post sharing some resources on voting, and on engaging in electoral politics more broadly. I may continue to update this as November approaches; hopefully it can be useful; please feel free to share, or make your own version.
***UPDATE #1 (10/14/20): A new poem that speaks to some of the stuff in this post.***
***UPDATE #2 (10/26/20): I put together a Twitter thread of what a bunch of activist organizations are saying about voting. Read it via the link, though I’ve also put a transcript at the bottom of this post.***
***UPDATE #3 (10/30/20): If you’re still thinking about voting, know that it’s too late to mail your ballot, but you can still drop it off or vote in person (early or otherwise). This link has some great info (MN-specific).***
Pressure on the Wound: Why I Vote.
I’ve written before about my own position on voting (as someone who can vote; it’s worth remembering that it’s a right that too many people are denied). To summarize: I believe that change is driven by mass movements, not by individual politicians. That being said, elected leaders are power bottlenecks, and whether their policies are imperfect, bad, or catastrophic has a direct impact on the kind of movement-building that can happen in opposition to those policies.
In other words: Voting is pressure on the wound. Applying pressure to a wound doesn’t heal it, but it can buy time for the healer to arrive, for the real work to be done. That pressure, alone, isn’t the solution to the injury, but it can still be the difference between life and death.
That’s my reason, and I get that it’s not the best soundbite for a mass audience. I’ll share some better quotes from people smarter than me below. But first, let’s pause on the why and focus on the how.
This past week, dozens of survivors have come forward to speak out about abuse, harassment, and sexual assault in the local music scene (and beyond). Their voices have joined those that have already been raising the alarm, and prominent artists, labels, and venues are now releasing statements, doing damage control, and considering next steps.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and the subsequent calls for defunding and abolishing police departments around the country, more and more people are imagining new possibilities, and committing to the work of making those possibilities real.
That work will include more protest, policy work, shifting resources, and leveraging power. It will also include education (popular, political, and otherwise). Of course, “reading books and having conversations” is not everything that needs to happen. But it does need to happen, especially in a moment where millions of people are fundamentally rethinking what policies are “common sense,” what policies are “radical,” and what policies they will commit to actively organizing around.
How might we bring these conversations into spaces in which they’re not already happening? How can we integrate them into our curricula, into our clubs and organizations, into our social media platforms, and beyond?
I think these are important questions. So for people who are interested or already engaged in that kind of education work, here are three books, three articles, and three poems I would recommend. I’m using the 3/3/3 format because there are hundreds of resources I want to share here, but I also know that can be overwhelming. Hopefully these can be starting points:
“Abolishing prisons and police” was one of those concepts that sounded super radical to me… until I actually listened, and learned more about it.
I know that a few links aren’t going to persuade everyone, but I do think it’s really important to think critically about the stories we’re told about justice, policing, and order, along with the stories we’re not told. Especially right now, as the narrative about the police killing of George Floyd, and the narrative about what needs to happen next, take shape.
“What about the murderers?” “How will we stay safe?” “It’s too unrealistic!” Whatever concerns pop into your head, know that you are not the only person who has asked them. Here are FIVE of the readings and resources that have been most useful to me on my own journey toward understanding the necessity of dismantling the current system.
We must look beyond police for community safety (Star Tribune) As public health experts have been saying for centuries, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A police-first approach to public safety fails to address the underlying causes of crime, while contributing to our status as the most incarcerated country in the world, and one with incredibly high levels of police violence. Why don’t we try something different?
Thinking about how to abolish prisons with Mariame Kaba (Chris Hayes’ podcast – audio and transcript) I’m a prison-industrial complex abolitionist, which means that I have a political vision and ideological commitments and belief in organizing, that we have to organize towards a horizon where we no longer have prisons, policing, and surveillance. That we figure out other ways of addressing harm within our communities.
“Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently-Asked Questions” (MPD150) Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and instantly defunding every department in the world. Rather, we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.
“Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing” (Critical Resistance) These charts break down the difference between reformist reforms which continue or expand the reach of policing, and abolitionist steps that work to chip away and reduce its overall impact. (This graphic is really cool, but there is a similar, potentially easier-to-read piece here).
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind (New York TImes) Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”
BONUS UPDATE: Some writing from this past week’s Minneapolis Uprising in the wake of the murder of George Floyd:
Longer Reads: Of course, these links are just a start, but I think they frame the argument really well. If you want to dig deeper into the data, the history, and the policy side of what needs to happen, here are some books and other resources that might make good next steps:
The End of Policing by Alex Vitale
Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Y. Davis
Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex (Anthology)
Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams
A parting thought: I wanted to share something here that was a little more focused than the “here are 35379 things people can do” pieces floating around out there. Of course, “learning more” isn’t the same as action, and isn’t enough to create the changes we need. But it is an important step, especially for those of us just getting involved for the first time.
One reason an abolitionist approach makes so much sense to me is that, as these readings show, it isn’t just an abstract philosophical concept- it’s a process with some pretty concrete, practical, winnable steps. Here in Minneapolis, I’d definitely recommend people check out Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective, the coalitions that are kind of at the center of this kind of organizing, as well as MPD150 (a group I’ve worked with for a while now; some cool stuff on the horizon too). An easy action step is to follow those groups on whatever social media platforms you use, and stay plugged in.
There’s short-term work that needs to be done (protesting, taking care of each other, contacting city council/mayor to demand divestment from police), and there’s long-term work that needs to be done (pressuring local policy-makers via elections, lobbying, direct action, and public pressure to shift resources away from police and toward community), but both can be done with an abolitionist framework. A last link: I’d encourage people who are interested in taking action to check out Deepa Iyer’s “My Role in a Social Change Ecosystem” to help with that process.