Feeling Is Not Weakness: Sadness, Mourning and Movement

As we build our collective strength, how can we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable?

As we build our collective strength, how do we also allow ourselves to be vulnerable?

Many of the movements now happening on a global scale—but particularly the ones here in the US—represent political shifts I’ve been hoping for for as long as I can remember. Given this, it’s hard to understand why I’ve been so sad the past few months.

Part of the sadness is mourning. Each day there are new names of trans women, teenagers, queer folks, fathers, mothers, babies who have been murdered by police, or absorbed by prisons. I am hearing their stories, witnessing the revolting details in videos, filled with their relentlessly violent themes. I am mourning the loss of their voices, their wisdom, their light. I am grieving for their families, our family. I am mourning for the lives of young oppressed people, the violence they face or will be facing too soon.

But another part of the sadness runs out of a different place. It comes from the confrontation of a political reality that, in truth, is easier to ignore.

Many of us are able to get up in the morning, survive our daily lives, because we don’t examine our oppression head-on—at least not consistently. We know we cannot allow ourselves to feel the constant rage and pain we deserve to feel. It’s not sustainable. Yet, the emerging of a movement means, precisely, confrontation. It creates numerous outlets for the expression of that rage and pain. This, in turn, means we live in the midst of our own violent reality in ways we might otherwise intentionally avoid.

As a person of color who has long existed in white, middle-class spaces, I’m used to having to explain my perspectives as an oppressed person ad nauseam, and used to having them dismissed. I’m used to being condescended to by people who have never experienced my hardships, told that I am too young to speak to the historical realities of my own people. Yet even as current organizing blows the lid off white complacency, proving the tired claims of Black and Brown communities, and even as members of my own community awaken to the true state and purpose of policing in this country, a small and strange part of myself has been revealed. It is a small, strange and sad part of myself that wishes they were right, wishes I was exaggerating, wishes I had fabricated everything. The vindication of years of my own imploring and arguing has not left me feeling justified or empowered, but sad. I am sad to be right, sad that our reality is as horrific as I have always sensed it to be. Ironically, the vision I have a long urged others to see is suddenly one from which I wish I could turn away.

Indeed, yet another layer of my sadness is a true reckoning of just what the social, political and economic reality of Black and Brown people in this country is. While the uprisings from Ferguson to Baltimore have initiated some into conversations around state violence and modern apartheid, for those of us who live it on a daily basis, current movements for justice have revealed to us that our violent experiences are not localized, not isolated. Instead of simply having stories about our families, our friends, our own run-ins with the law, there is suddenly (inter)national documentation of just how often we are harassed, imprisoned, killed, and how often the state is getting away with it. Our anecdotal evidence—while compelling for our own lives—is suddenly–and jarringly being placed in a global context, and the sheer numbers of lost lives paints a picture that in some ways is grimmer than one which only encompasses our block, our neighborhood, or our city.

It is sad to realize it’s not one officer, one department. It’s sad to realize there is an entire network designed to harm us, and protect those who do harm. It is depressing to realize how formidable the giant of empire is.

And then my sadness is compounded with guilt. I am guilty for being sad. Sadness feels weak. I know in my head that the point of talking-head propaganda, the point of state murder, of police acquittals, of harassment and imprisonment is demoralization. I feel guilty for being demoralized. I should be angry. I should be fiery with unquenchable passion. I should be as relentless as the state. If I am sad, the state has won. If I am sad, the fight is over.

This is what, most recently, I am trying to remind myself: Humanness is not weakness. It is not a new realization, but one I have been giving myself new permission to inhabit. Feeling, though it may make me vulnerable, does not make me weak. Mourning is what I should do when people I love are taken from me. Experiencing hurt around the painful realities my people and I face is more than understandable; It shows that I have not given in, not accepted the current, violent reality, not forfeited the belief in my own value.

The same qualities that make the state overwhelming are the ones that, in fact, make it weak. An unfeeling devotion to profit, to the grotesque amassing of resources, at the expense of community, people and planet, is not strength. There is, in fact, nothing sadder than believing in the sacrifice of life for material, control, and power. The most intense violence—which we are seeing ramp up—the intentional erasure of history, the use of militaristic force, solitary confinement, the reneging of basic rights, assault, abuse, will never stop our communities from feeling. It will never end our love for our own lives, for the lives of our ancestors, for the lives of our children. It will never dissuade us from fighting back.

My sadness proves my love, and my love proves that I am driven by profound spiritual bonds to my people—past, present and yet to come. And just as it is unsustainable for us to ignore violence, ignore the political reality of our oppression, it is as equally unsustainable to pretend it has not affected us, is not affecting us. Being affected does not imply weakness. Rather, it implies the presence of all the qualities the state does not possess, all the qualities that make struggle worthwhile, and make the realizing of justice the more sweepingly beautiful.

Pretending I am not sad, hiding my sadness, will not make me stronger. Suppressing my true self, denying the fear and rage that surround loss, is what in the long run will weaken me. When we talk of self-care, self-preservation, we need to talk not just about overcoming our feelings of grief, but allowing them, making room for them. We need to talk about movement building that allows us to feel, in all the different ways that may come, and does not expect us to erase or bottle up our sadness in the name of organizing, leadership or activism.

Let us not push forward so decidedly that we do not stop to mourn. It’s okay to grieve for our lost, for ourselves, for our families, for our ancestors. Let that grief be a part of the movement building process for which we allow hallowed space, and let it build within us the compassion that propels us into new battles.

On Going Viral: What the Movement Still Teaches, What the Movement Still Needs

Ethiopian Israelis protesting occupation and police brutality this past weekend.

Ethiopian Israelis protesting occupation and police brutality this past weekend.

Last week an article on my blog addressing militancy and the uprisings in Baltimore was shared more times in 24 hours than most things on my blog have been shared in years. It struck a chord I had not predicted, and challenged the poisonous narratives that were dominating the airwaves last weekend.

Afterward, I got death threats. I got called a nigger, and a few conservative sites found my Facebook profile and reposted pictures of my image. Fox News called for an interview, as did the Huffington Post and several radio shows. I declined most of these offers, not only because I didn’t trust the goals of the outlets, but because centering my voice was not the point.

“…A riot is the language of the unheard,” many were surprised to learn Martin Luther King, Jr. said famously over Black riots in 1968, after being encouraged by media to calm protesters. Perhaps even more poignantly, James Baldwin stated in an interview with Esquire that same year, “…If the American Negro…is going to become a free person in this country, the people of this country have to give up something. If they don’t give it up, it will be taken from them.”

Some objectors to my argument made cliche appeals: “Both sides need to be held accountable,” or, “violence only begets more violence.” Many revealed they had not actually read the piece, or at least not carefully.

Virulent responses to the word “racist” to describe those criticizing the riots made it once again evident that racist is still seen as the worst insult one can call another in this country, when it shouldn’t be. We are all products of a racist society, all say and do racist things regularly. The only way to actually end racism is learning to recognize it in all its forms, to name it in ourselves and others, not for the sake of shaming individuals but for accepting responsibility for our own roles in its perpetuation.

Let us once again be clear: If we oppose violence, then we must oppose all forms of policing. If we oppose violence then we must call for an end to war, an end to occupation. We must oppose sexual assault, and prisons as institutions which wield it as a strategic tool. If we abhor violence to bodies, families, communities, then we should abhor all these systems and call for their immediate abolition. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said so perfectly, “When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

Other writers challenged some of my views in important ways—not by defaming rioters, but by acknowledging that rioting is rarely something than can be planned, controlled. Understanding riots, militant uprisings, as emotional reactions to extreme trauma as much as political demonstrations was an important point of reevaluation for myself, one I feel I am still learning about from other writers, community members and activists.

My heart is heavy at the end of this week over the indictments of six officers in Freddie Gray’s case, not because I do not believe in individual accountability, but because I, too, believe that violence begets more violence. As a movement, we cannot celebrate indictments for any crime. If we seek to end racist policing, we must seek the end of all policing, all incarceration. We have got to comprehend this once and for all. When we call out the violence in some of the state’s representatives while heralding others as our heroes, we are falling for its tricks. We are reinvesting in its authority, which means we are fortifying our own ultimate subjugation. Instead of invoking the names of our dead to call for more imprisonment, we need to tell their stories in service of demilitarizing, decriminalizing and freeing our communities from the prison system forever.

Some—in most cases conservatives and policing advocates who had not actually read my article or fully grasped it—tried to make the issue about me this week. It didn’t work, because the issue is not about me, just as it is not about individual police officers, the State’s Attorney, or individual slain Black people.

A movement cannot be about one voice. It is never led by one leader. The moment we are in inspires me so deeply because there are innumerable leaders. At the forefront are women, queers and young people of color. We are genius, we are loud, and we are tirelessly action-oriented.

There are too many of us to imprison, too many of us to arrest. There are too many of us to censor, to smother with senseless soundbites, to demoralize with propaganda. There are too many of us to intimidate with the very violence our movement seeks to eradicate.

Don’t let them make you forget that.

In Support of Baltimore: Or; Smashing Police Cars Is Logical Political Strategy

Rioters near Camden Yards in Baltimore smashing the windows and windshields of police cars.

Rioters near Camden Yards in Baltimore smashing the windows and windshields of police cars.

As a nation, we fail to comprehend Black political strategy in much the same way we fail to recognize the value of Black life.

We see ghettos and crime and absent parents where we should see communities actively struggling against mental health crises and premeditated economic exploitation. And when we see police cars being smashed and corporate property being destroyed, we should see reasonable responses to generations of extreme state violence, and logical decisions about what kind of actions yield the desired political results.

I’m overwhelmed by the pervasive slandering of protesters in Baltimore this weekend for not remaining peaceful. The bad-apple rhetoric would have us believe that most Baltimore protesters are demonstrating the right way—as is their constitutional right—and only a few are disrupting the peace, giving the movement a bad name.

This spin should be disregarded, first because of the virtual media blackout of any of the action happening on the ground, particularly over the weekend. Equally, it makes no sense to cite the Constitution in any demonstration for Black civil rights (that document was not written about us, remember?), but certainly not one organized specifically to call attention to the fact that the state breaks its own laws with regard to the oppressed on a nearly constant basis.

But there is an even bigger problem. Referring to Black Lives Matter protests, as well as organic responses to police and state violence as “non-violent” or “peaceful” erases the actual climate in which these movements are acting, the militant strategies that have rendered them effective, and the long history of riots and direct action on which they are built.

I do not advocate non-violence—particularly in a moment like the one we currently face. In the spirit and words of militant Black and Brown feminist movements from around the globe, I believe it is crucial that we see non-violence as a tactic, not a philosophy.

Non-violence is a type of political performance designed to raise awareness and win over sympathy of those with privilege. When those on the outside of struggle—the white, the wealthy, the straight, the able-bodied, the masculine—have demonstrated repeatedly that they do not care, are not invested, are not going to step in the line of fire to defend the oppressed, this is a futile political strategy. It not only fails to meet the needs of the community, but actually puts oppressed people in further danger of violence.

Militance is about direct action which defends our communities from violence. It is about responses which meet the political goals of our communities in the moment, and deal with the repercussions as they come. It is about saying no, firmly drawing and holding boundaries, demanding the return of stolen resources. And from Queer Liberation and Black Power to centuries-old movements for Native sovereignty and anti-colonialism, it is how virtually all of our oppressed movements were sparked, and has arguably gained us the only real political victories we’ve had under the rule of empire.

We need to clarify what we mean by terms like “violence” and “peaceful.” Because, to be clear, violence is beating, harassing, tazing, assaulting and shooting Black, trans, immigrant, women, and queer people, and that is the reality many of us are dealing with daily. Telling someone to be peaceful and shaming their militance not only lacks a nuanced and historical political understanding, it is literally a deadly and irresponsible demand.

The political goals of rioters in Baltimore are not unclear—just as they were not unclear when poor, Black people rioted in Ferguson last fall. When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.

Black people know this, and have employed these tactics for a very, very long time. Calling them uncivilized, and encouraging them to mind the Constitution is racist, and as an argument fails to ground itself not only in the violent political reality in which Black people find themselves, but also in our centuries-long tradition of resistance, one that has taught effective strategies for militance and direct action to virtually every other current movement for justice.

And while I don’t believe that every protester involved in attacking police cars and corporate storefronts had the same philosophy, did what they did for the same reasons, it cannot be discounted that when there is a larger national outcry in defense of plate-glass windows and car doors than for Black young people, a point is being made; When there is more concern for white sports fans in the vicinity of a riot than the Black people facing off with police, there is mounting justification for the rage and pain of Black communities in this country.

Acknowledging all of this, I do think events this weekend in Baltimore raise important questions for future direct and militant action in all of our movements. In addition to articulating our goals, crafting our messaging and type of action, we need to think carefully about what the longer term results of militant action might potentially be. Strategies I might suggest, and important questions I think we should try and answer as we plan or find ourselves involved in political actions are these:

  • Are we harming state and private property, or are we harming people, communities and natural resources? Is the result of our action disrupting state and corporate violence, or creating collateral damage that more oppressed people will have to deal with (i.e., Black families and business owners, cleaning staff, etc.)? Are we mimicking state violence by harming people and the environment, or are we harming state property in ways that can stop or slow violence? Are we demonizing systems or people?
  • Who is in the vicinity? Are we doing harm to people around us as we act? Is there a possibility of violence for those who are not the intended targets of our action? Are we forcing people to be involved in an action who many not want to be, or who are not ready?
  • Who is involved in the action? Are people involved in our action consensually, or simply because they are in the vicinity? Have we created ways for people of all abilities who may not want to be present to leave? Are we being strategic about location and placement of bodies? If there are violent repercussions for our actions, who will be facing them?

We should attempt to answer as many of these questions as possible before action occurs, in the planning stages if possible. We also need backup plans and options for changing our actions in the moment if any of the agreed-upon conditions are not the same when it comes time to act.

I rolled my eyes when inquiries in Ferguson “shockingly” revealed racist emails sent throughout local government, including higher-ups in the Police Department. I think many of us knew the inquiry of virtually any police department would yield almost identical findings. The riots in Baltimore have many drawing parallels between policy and conduct in both cities now. What kind of action brought to light for the less affected what Black people have always known? What kinds of actions will it take to make it widely understood that all policing is racist terror, and justice can only come with its permanent abolition?

Black power, Queer power, power to Baltimore, and to all oppressed people who know what time it is.

Just Practice – Workshop Series 2015

53ed2b23e4b0cbe8da4956afJust Practice, a training series started last year by Shira Hassan, will be resuming next month. The series focuses on strengthening activists’, youth workers’ and community members’ harm reduction and transformative justice toolbox. It is committed to providing concrete skills for oppressed community advocates, and generating creative alternatives to the criminal justice system.

I’m excited to announce that members of the Radical Faggot team will be providing a workshop for this year’s series! Based on voguing workshops we have been leading here in Chicago, we will be facilitating a session around physical movement, creative community empowerment and transformative curriculum. We can’t wait to be a part of this unique project, and hope to see you there.

The roster of workshops and registration are available here. Sliding scale payment is available for all sessions. Make sure to check out all the amazing workshops that will be taking place!


Vogue Studies: Using Community History to Inspire Action

June 6th

10:30am – 1:30pm

24 E Congress Pkwy

Chicago, IL

In this workshop, participants will examine a concrete example of how the history, experiences, and traditions of community can be harnessed from within for collective empowerment. Engaging in a movement workshop based on the Black and Latin@ queer dance form known as voguing, participants will feel what it is like to use aesthetic movement to inform struggles for justice. Participants will be walked through the workshop, examine its components, and then have a chance to map out some of their own ideas for specific curricula that might empower their unique communities of learning and organizing.

Note: This workshop is open to People of Color only.

Watching the Watchers — And Other Great Upcoming Events!

FIT1As amazing action continues to happen around the country challenging state-sanctioned violence, there are several upcoming gatherings here in Chicago that represent an unprecedented connecting of movements and radical organizations that everyone who can should come out to:

The Chicago Teachers Union is for the first time formally joining in current conversations around policing with their event Racial Profiling: From the Classroom to the Street on January 22nd. This meeting will put students, teachers and community members in conversation with one another about present shifts in our approach to policing, and how those must be understood and directly applied to school settings as well.

Secondly, Watching the Watchers, a free, all day conference organized by Project NIA and We Charge Genocide will be taking place on January 24th. The schedule features workshops on an array of strategies for actively challenging the policing system, and ends in a planning session for further direct action. Members of the Radical Faggot team will be there co-leading a workshop on queer and trans resistance of policing, so we hope to see you!

Finally, INCITE! is hosting their 4th Color of Violence conference in Chicago this March, and early registration has been extended to January 15th! Come join an amazing national gathering of Black and Brown feminists organizing against violence in all its forms.

Please check out the registration for all of these exciting events below, spread the word, and be there if you can!


Racial Profiling: From the Classroom to the Street

January 22nd, 2015

SEIU Healthcare — 2229 South Halsted Street

7pm to 9pm


Register here


Watching the Watchers: Strategies for Ending Police Violence

January 24th, 2015

Roosevelt University — 430 S. Michigan Ave, Congress Hall, 2nd Floor

9am to 5:30pm


Register here — required for attendance


Color of Violence 4

March 26th – 29th, 2015

Hyatt Regency McCormick Place — 2233 South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

Rester here — early registration closed after January 15th!

Can We Build an Anti-Policing Movement that Isn’t Anti-Police?

In 2013, when Thai police laid down their riot gear and allowed protesters access to the presidential house, many questioned whether it was a show of solidarity or government strategy.

In 2013, when police in Bangkok laid down their riot gear and allowed protesters access to the Government House, many questioned whether it was a show of solidarity or sly strategy.

Last week my immediate family came out with my friends and me to their first protest since the fatal shooting of Mike Brown. They were interested in getting involved in the movement, and my younger sister in particular had tons of insightful questions.

At one point the rally spontaneously broke out into a chant heard many times over the past months:

The whole damn system is guilty as hell!

Indite! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail!

My sister turned to me in the middle of the chanting and asked, “Don’t those two lines contradict each other?”

Since I was a young person I have been uncomfortable with the anti-police rhetoric of many leftist movements. Plenty of times I have been harassed, targeted, threatened and assaulted by police with no provocation. I have never been unfamiliar with the racist state violence that police represent. What always complicated my feelings was the number of police in my own family.

All of my police relatives are poor people of color. They have their own histories of military service, lack of access to education and resources of all kinds. They have all struggled with anger, depression and partner abuse. They are most of them ultra-conservative, despite their oppressed experiences. Though their backgrounds and political views are complicated, almost all of them represent the exact populations for which the movements in which I am currently involved claim to advocate.

In recent anti-policing actions and organizing that have been taking place around the country, I feel we as a movement have done an exemplary job of drawing connections between struggles—both in the present political moment, and historically. Black communities and their allies clearly understand and articulate policing as a tool used primarily to protect the rich from the poor, the white from the Black and Brown, the privileged from those upon whom their privilege is built. What I still feel is missing from our analysis is who police are and how they arrive at their position as the buffers which preserve the capitalist class structure.

Leaders of the movement have correctly illuminated the inexorable connections between the current policing and prison systems, and their roots first in chattel slavery, then in the policing of newly freed slaves during reconstruction. A crucial point of this history, however, is that it was historically poor whites, representing the interests of the wealthy, who took on the roles of slave catchers, overseers and government-backed militiamen. By instructing poor whites to invest in their whiteness, economically oppressed people were bamboozled into identifying with the state, instead of with other socially and economically oppressed people, conveniently keeping the hands of the wealthy clean as the poorer classes clashed, and avoiding the larger insurrections that might have been possible had they united. This element of the policing system has also survived into the modern era.

What might a movement against policing look like if police themselves joined in on a large scale? How can we shift our target so that we consistently take aim at the larger structures which oppress us—structures which often oppress the working, the unionized, the police themselves?

Having asked these questions, working with police is not necessarily a tactic I advocate. This fatal mistake is how countless global movements have been disbanded, infiltrated and even militarized.

For example, a co-worker of mine who identifies as trans refuses to work with the police precisely because she has done it before. Part of a radical collective that attempted to educate officers on trans identities and issues, the group disbanded when, instead of curbing attacks on trans people, police used the information they had learned to more effectively target, manipulate and intimidate them. The anti-war movement has long advocated for the human rights of troops, and created powerful bonds between itself and military vets. Yet, as many critics have correctly pointed out, these bonds are much easier to make when the activists involved are not the ones being bombed, shot and terrorized by the troops with which they organize.

Having cops as relatives, I know all too well that they are prone to violence, and carry dangerous prejudices towards queers, women, immigrants and other groups in struggle. I also know intimately that it is policing itself which has engendered many of these attitudes and tendencies within them. The capitalist state first denies us resources and agency, teaches us we are without worth or power, then promises to return our agency to us if we become its violent representatives. Countless oppressed people in my family and community have fallen into this trap, and military and police recruiters know exactly how seductive the offer is. Anger and violent rage are valuable to these systems, and excessive force is encouraged and even demanded by them. If we are to truly understand who police are and how to most effectively combat policing as a system, the realization that policing does deep harm to those whom are coerced into participating in it must factor into our organizing strategies.

I am not arguing for a shift in our tactics and rhetoric because I am worried about mainstream portrayals of our communities. I don’t ask that we change our tone to make our movement more palatable, or more welcoming. I certainly don’t want a movement that is less militant. I actually believe we can go deeper, do more damage, and lead more effective actions if we have a broader understanding of exactly what it is we are fighting for. As my sister correctly noted, our message is getting confused, and wherever we do not provide our own clarity, the state and others will intervene to turn our views against one another.

I don’t believe justice for Mike Brown, or any other oppressed person murdered or tortured by the state, will come from locking up the individual law enforcement agents involved. I do believe it can come from a radical redistribution of resources in our society, one which could greatly aid in making policing obsolete, and might even benefit those who currently occupy the roles of police officers. And it is much more threatening to those in power that we demand they give up their hoarded wealth than it is that they lock up a handful of police who were, in fact, just doing their job.

In many ways our movement is still condemning racist cops, failing to understand that the individual prejudices of police are not the issue: As long as there is policing, there will be people charged with keeping the oppressed in their rightful places, with violence as they see fit. We rally for indictments, for charges, for prison sentences, forgetting that the criminal justice system exists to jail us, and that as long as we continue to invest in it, we will overwhelmingly be the ones who fill prisons. We must use the incredible force we are beginning to see in ourselves to demand justice for all our people, for ourselves, and not just for the individual names who may have sparked our movement. We need to identify the structures that oppress us—not its individual representatives—as the targets for our action.

We have—and must stay committed to—a well-organized movement that confronts and disrupts the state apparatus militantly. This means that, by definition, we will continue to go head-to-head with police in our streets, our neighborhoods and all the places we gather. This means, without question, that we will experience more racism, more transphobia, more sexism, classism and direct violence in the months to come. Police will see us as their enemies, even if we work to remind ourselves that they are merely the public faces of ours.

How do we heal from this violence, and hold those responsible for it accountable, while maintaining our struggle in its complexity, and focusing it on those who represent the true barriers to justice? How can we build a movement with a long-term vision of solidarity and unification, even one that is not possible now?

Black Lives Don’t Just Matter: Or; This Moment is the Result of Black Militance

As we look to the future of a budding movement, let's talk about Black power

As we look to the future of a budding movement, let’s talk about Black power.

This past month I’ve been realizing how long it has been since I felt proud to be Black.

I’m not talking about hating myself, my family or other people like me. I’m not talking about disdain or self-loathing, the poisonous things I’m encouraged to believe about my own community.

I am talking about depression. I’m talking about exhaustion. The constant sensation of voicelessness. The draining task of continuously reminding yourself that you have value, knowledge, power, when every system you are a part of is teaching you the opposite. I’m talking about the kind of fury that eats you from the inside, that makes you lash out, makes you do dangerous things because you are tired of being the only person who tells yourself you are important. These have been the primary associations I’ve held around my own Blackness for longer than I understood.

I work at a community center for homeless queer and trans youth. The majority of those who access our space are Black. Recently during our weekly community meeting, youth mentioned wanting to discuss the false rumor that filming the police had been outlawed in Illinois. This discussion led inevitably to the riots and looting in Ferguson that have sparked a national movement, but have also received much scrutiny and spin from mainstream media. Youth wanted to know if, given the poor image already held of Black folks in the U.S., it made more tactical sense for a movement to demonstrate that Black people could protest peaceably.

“We need to stop acting like barbarians,” one young person argued. “We need to stop acting ratchet the way they expect us to. We need to show them we can be articulate and professional. That’s the only way we are going to win this.”

Many agreed with this general sentiment of respectability, until another youth stepped in:

“I think we have been respectful and peaceful. That’s what a lot of our history is. A lot of people out here dying now weren’t carrying weapons, even had their hands up. I think respect isn’t the issue, because they’re never going to respect us.”

The conversation which ensued remained remarkably thoughtful, even as community members challenged one another’s ideas. Youth discussed their own experiences with police violence, and debated about best strategies for protecting and advocating for Black queer communities given its reality. We entered into a nuanced analysis of looting, in which young people drew a line between attacking Black and community-owned businesses, and large chains and corporate outlets, which many felt much less conflicted about targeting. Even more powerfully, by the end of the talk, the room had almost unanimously arrived at supporting militant direct action in place of peaceful protest.

There are conversations occurring on an international level that, in the very recent past, I feared I would never witness within my lifetime. They go far deeper than police brutality; Our movements on an immensely large scale are drawing the connections between policing, militarism and the inherently racist order they work to enforce. We aren’t calling for reform; We are collectively recognizing that as long as there is policing, there will be anti-Black violence; As long as there is capitalism, there will be anti-Black violence; As long as we look to the state, the judicial system, the prison system to protect us, there will be anti-Black violence. There is one primary reason these realizations are becoming mainstream.

There are beautiful and bitter names of Black children, Black women, Black men, Black trans and queer people on the lips of millions this month. Many of them are not new names. Few of their stories are new or unprecedented. There is one reason, I believe, they have not been forgotten, buried or lost like the countless others that precede them: When Mike Brown was shot by law enforcement, poor and working Black people in Ferguson rioted against the police.

Black people took aggressive, combative action to confront a state we have always known is racist and violent. In so doing, they didn’t just start a movement; they set that movement’s tone, its energy, its convictions. Radical actions, large scale disruptions and threats to the daily functioning of consumer capitalism have been made possible not by academia, not by non-profits, not by the classic “Black leaders,” not by media. They are happening because of—being led by—Black youth, families, neighborhoods, community organizations, and their myriad allies. They are acting out of the simplest conviction: That their lives have value. No fact has made me prouder to be Black in my entire lifetime, and in this moment I am learning from my community that my voicelessness comes from trying to speak through the channels meant to demean me. Fury turned outward and backed by community is not destructive, but transformational.

Black lives don’t merely matter: They exist at the crux of capital, a class caste system, the hoax of prisons and policing, the erasure of the colonial legacy, the destruction of the earth. Black lives don’t just matter: They are the voices of struggle, the vision of a more balanced world. Black lives more than just matter: Their organic responses to the systems that attempt to destroy them teach us all that aggressive tactics gain footholds for our movements that legislation, litigation, electoral politics and peaceful protests rarely have.

If we are to honor Blackness, honor our ancestors, honor those whose courage has given us this movement, then militance, direct action and a commitment to the risk-laden disruption of these interwoven systems must stay at its core.