“Utilizing Tenets of Anarchism and Abolition in Our Daily Lives”

Times right now feel, and are, well… Tough? Weird? Stressful? Fucking awful? 

Wildfires are continuing to spread across the West coast and other natural disasters are consistently taking place across the country at the harsh cost of climate change and blatant disregard for Native peoples across Turtle Island. Anti-Black, trans-misogynistic, and xenophobic hate crimes across interpersonal and systemic levels have skyrocketed in the past months, more than recent decades had seen. A route-altering election is insidiously approaching, and televisions and laptops highlight faces of orange puppets, white racists, and Black cops in an ironic soapbox drama of a presidential debate. Coronavirus is growing with momentum meanwhile our government, loved ones, and, sometimes, ourselves turn a shoulder on the fact that nearly 200,000 individuals have died this year alone as a result of such ignorance and self-indulgence. San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest state prison, alone has recently been affected by an outbreak of the virus affecting over two-thirds of the prison, claiming over 25 lives of incarcerated men and trans women. Over 30 million people living are now placed in circumstances dependent on unemployment due to work closures and lay-offs, while an even larger number of individuals struggle to financially survive under a capitalist monopoly that allows conglomerate billionaires to make millions of dollars every following day at the price of human lives.

When I look at the scope of this moment and intersecting movements we are currently living in and a part of, it would be a lie to say I don’t sometimes feel hopeless or fearful. In adrienne maree brown’s work on Emergent Strategy, she explains the urgency of taking a critical look at our current world in such a visually accurate way–the same way in which I so often wake up, look out my window, and do not want to get out of bed: “The crisis is everywhere, massive massive massive. And we are small.” (2017:3). I’ve been reflecting as of lately on how we as people–we as singular, individual persons–can utilize such frameworks of emergence toward justice and liberation in our tough, weird, stressful, and sometimes fucking awful moments we are currently experiencing. A loved one shared with me recently the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook (2007), and I have since begun utilizing such tenets toward radical acceptance and coping strategies in my own daily life. “This moment is a result of a thousand other moments,” I now tell myself when I begin to feel my anxiety expand from my chest and extend outward in each and every direction. Even as awful as this moment may seem, we each possess the capability to change the moment and the way in which we are experiencing it. “Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions,” brown echoes the words of Nick Obolensky throughout her work (2017:3). If we may recognize the reality that we are small and emergent–that our smallness is needed in order to create space and power and community for one another–then we may also recognize how these interactions are small, interpersonal, and also reliant on each other’s dedication to such frameworks of justice and liberation within our daily lives.

When I wake, I know I have a promise to myself to keep going. That today is not the last day of my life but to live like it is. That I have a privilege of waking up in a bed, looking out a glass window, and living in a free world where I have the autonomy to choose when I rise and sleep. When I wake, I know I have a duty to my loved ones to support and care for them. That I show up for not just a romantic partner but a web of genuine relationships that are mutually justice-oriented and seek to participate in a world where we all may live without borders or prisons or separation or heartbreak. When I wake, I know I have a duty to those around me, to my neighbors, to spread radical love even as hard and often seemingly pointless as it may seem at times of darkness. Because those interactions, regardless how small, are moments moving us forward toward another liberatory future we may dream into existence together.

When I sleep, I dream in anarchism. I dream of abolition. I dream of a community of loved ones where we may utilize such tenets from these ideologies–of full autonomy and self-determination of our bodies (Shepard 2012); of mutual aid and anti-authoritarianism of the hierarchies “[bearing] a racialized and gendered texture” (Bey 2020); of the capacity to express consenting and radical pleasure, intimacy, and love to anyone and everyone in any and every form (brown 2019; Hexe 2012; Nordgren 2006; Song 2012). I dream of the heroines who’ve fought before me for justice and survival, embracing and embodying epistemologies from Black queer and trans feminisms so directly tied to our liberation and the dismantling of the carceral, capitalist, white supremacist state we are twistedly placed under (Tourmaline 2019; Gosset 2017; Lydon 2012). I dream of a world without police, billionaires, monarchies, or war–a world free from hierarchies and coercive forms of oppression, where such imbalances of power are dismantled not only systemically but also from an interpersonal level as well. And, again, when I wake I know I want to keep living and breathing in this dream. Odds are, you do too.

So often when I’m chatting, smoking, fucking, and vibing with loved ones, the topics of anarchism and abolition naturally manifest into conversation. Themes of restorative justice and revolutionary love are emphasized and underlined in each of our differing dialogues. We cry and we laugh and we love. We talk of and prepare for upcoming protests against the State. We strategize other mutual-organizing efforts, and utilize each other’s knowledge and resources to survive and seek justice. But what about when we’re alone? What about when we are in our homes without one another? “The faggots are constantly reminding me that in moments of apparent scarcity, our best defense is to respond with abundance…” Tourmaline reminisces of the fictional utopian anarchist society of The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions (2019:viii). While we may be small, our smallness in abundance is power. Our abundance of small yet interconnected actions toward powerful liberation is how we may hopefully wake from this nightmare together. The question of how to practice such tenets of anarchism and abolition in our personal, daily lives should be rather a call of such praxis, a promise to utilize these tenets, even in this abundance of simple moments in which we feel small and the problems seem oh so massive. Even when our world is quite literally on fire, how may we resist the burn and extinguish the harm at its root?

The following is a non-holistic, hopefully somewhat expansive guide to reflecting on the critical ways in which we conduct relationships and hold space for restorative justice and revolutionary love. There lies immense potential in looking to and embodying anarchist and abolitionist ideologies even within the thousands of thousands of moments we experience. While each and every experience may be different and individual, each will also serve as a building block for the next. Each block may represent a different relationship or a different sector of your life. Each block is heavy in its weight alone regardless of its size. Eventually, those blocks piled up will hold an immense structure that, if not firm in its placement and aware of its surroundings however, can easily come toppling down. Maybe you’ve experienced something so demolishing, or maybe you sense that you strive to deconstruct and reconstruct the very relationships and sectors already present in your life. Regardless of the reason, critical reflection is crucial in addressing where and how to make critical changes in our lives, no matter how small those changes may seem.

  • How are you structuring your intimate partnerships? are there binary distinctions between platonic, romantic, and sexual? does one form of intimacy rate higher than the others? are hierarchies imposed to assert and maintain certain roles in your relationships? are you/your loved ones policing how your loved ones/you express different levels of intimacy and form varying relationships with others? are you able to feel autonomy over your own body and your life choices while engaging in such relationships? are you able to express yourself, your identities, your histories, your language, your body in a way that is not only understood but also empathized with and uplifted?
  • How are you actively claiming or deconstructing labels surrounding your sexuality? what about your gender? what binds you from aspiring to create new and different bonds of love? how do your platonic relationships need to receive love in order to feel supported? your romantic relationships? sexual relationships? what does intimacy look like for you across these relationships? and how can we all strive toward radical pleasure throughout them?
  • What styles of communication work across your relationships? how are interpersonal emotions and obstacles brought up in a way that potentially utilizes an approach centering harm reduction, de-escalation, and pleasure activism? when and how are issues articulated in effort of meeting one another where we are emotionally and mentally at? how do you hold space for your relationships both in times of need as well as in times of thriving? 

It is so easy to unconsciously succumb to adopting practices of hierarchies and possessiveness when it comes to love and intimacy… because that is exactly what our society has written out love and intimacy to look like. We so often fall in love and embrace the very hegemonic narratives of what “true love” is expected to appear to be despite what our hearts may tell us. Even as a gay trans woman myself, sometimes I feel I get an automatic anarchist membership card for my own personal relationships. Because my sexual and gender identities fall outside of a cisheteronormative expectancy, there is no way I could ever recreate the same toxic cisheteronormative practices in my relationships. That could never be me! At the same time, I may likewise hegemonically be practicing forms of compulsory monogamy, anti-sexualism, authoritative and coercive hierarchies, and poor practices of communication as opposed to radical honesty and revolutionary love in such relationships without even knowing it (Kaur 2020; Song 2012).

 I am overcome by the words of Abbey Volcano saying “radical queer politics and spaces have often come to invert existing hierarchies rather than doing away with them” (2012:35). So often, I will experience community members policing one another over labels and identities, as well as raising one form of relationship style above another rather than eliminating the very hierarchies that claim one form of intimacy or relationship to be “better” or “above” another. Practicing anarchism and abolition–specifically styles like relationship anarchy and/or non-hierarchical polyamory, for example–in our relationships means removing the hierarchies between us and our partners as well as between our frameworks for obtaining relationships versus somebody else’s. It means dedicating ourselves to forming relationships outside of a patriarchal cisheterosexist worldview regardless of our gender and sexual identities and not policing those of others as well.

Just in the same way in which cisheterosexism is kept alive in our society, as are its branches of compulsory monogamy and anti-sexualism surrounding kink, BDSM, and sex work. Non-hierarchical polyamory is one way in which we may utilize tenets of anarchism in our lives “by creating new family and relationship forms not invested in sexual ownership and in becoming a part of state-enforced and monitored relations” (Song 2012:170; Hardy 2017).  If we may utilize the tenets specifically of relationship anarchy, we begin to realize the expansive diversity of intimacy and love across the various relationships–not just romantic–of our lives. Relationship anarchy, for example, moves away from cisheterosexist assumptions of expected entitlement and constructed timelines and highlights, rather, the power in customizing the care and communication in each and every one of our relationships. Relationship anarchy echoes the same song that “love is abundant, and every relationship is unique” (Nordgren 2006), and again, within such an abundance of love lies also an abundance of power–an abundance of interconnectedness, which may have more potential of emergence than we even recognize.

  • How do you liberate your mind, body, and soul potentially through various sexual acts and seeking out our erotics and desires? how do you liberate others through consensual sexual and erotic acts? how may you seek out sexually liberating experiences, whether they may be overtly sexual, kink/BDSM-based, involving more than two persons, etc? how are roles and titles in these spaces explicitly utilized to instil a relationship of trust rather than coercion? how is pain experienced and created as a tool for liberation rather than oppression?
  • How do you deconstruct the idea of sex in your mind? how do you tear apart at the distinctions between romance and sexual? how do you embrace the reality that love is infinite and can take on an abundance of forms? how is sexual intimacy understood to be an individual contributor to revolutionary love instead of the sole factor?
  • How do you communicate your sexual and erotic desires with your sex partner(s)? how and when are changes in our sexual relationships brought to the table for discussion and participation across all parties? how do you create space for yourself to process your sexual experiences as a larger, contributive part of your life? 

I specifically bring in the topic of BDSM here not because I think BDSM is inherently sexual–because I do not–but rather because the intersections between erotic sex, love, and anarchism often go unnoticed. Harm reductionist and restorative justice advocate, Hexe, highlights that both BDSM and anarchy “are consent-based cultures…[wherein both lies] a fetish for consent and organizing people.” (2012:235). The same way in which the masochist consents to a specific situation with a sadist partner, the anarchist consents to a specific act with the rest of the group. The same way in which the dominatrix tears apart at the patriarchal cisheterosexist cultural norms, the anarchist tears apart at the capitalist white supremacist state. It is radical to practice BDSM, similar to relationship anarchy, polyamory, and restorative justice, because it critically addresses the power in play in each situation and ensures consent between all parties involved. 

Apart from our relationships with others, we likewise have (and hopefully are constantly working on) a relationship with ourselves. We are an individual interconnected with others, yes; simultaneously we should strive to be deeply connected with our own bodies. Our relationships and actions are derivative of our minds and the ways in which we process ideas and choose to act or react to situations. How we dismantle the State will result from our dedication to community organizing and practicing these tenets of anarchism and abolition, all of which begin with ourselves. How we talk about transformation and seek out justice will greatly depend on the frameworks each and every one of us internalize in our minds on a small, daily level.

  • How are you an agent of change for people and things around you? how are you an agent of change for yourself, your mind, body, and soul? How do you deconstruct the systemic barriers you and your loved ones face?
  • How do you respond to intentional harm with intention? how do you protect yourself and seek sanctuary when the pain feels too massive? how do you seek mutual aid and support from those around you when problems feel ubiquitous? how do you hold space for yourself to process emotions? to hold space apart from others when needed? to reach out and receive radical love and support from your relationships when crucial?
  • How do you seek out justice without reinventing the wheel of punishment? who do you turn to in times of pain and fear? how do you advocate justice rooted in interpersonal accountability and community consent versus punitive law enforcement and hyper-surveillance?

“I’m not a big believer in justice…” Kai Cheng Thom begins with her piece on “I Hope We Choose Love” (2019:84). And rightfully so. We’ve all seen the harmful, negative results of institutions’ diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. We know the bull-shit with Title IX offices and procedures. We understand how civil rights legislation will not, and cannot, be the sole thing which will liberate us from the ideologies and manifestations of interpersonal violence and injustice many of us experience throughout our daily routines. Yet, “if we must do the work,” Thom continues, maybe we should begin with rediscovering what justice and liberation can look like (84). “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” are the vital words of self-identified Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet, Audre Lorde, that feel ever so critical to revisit today (1984). Restorative justice, like Thom, brown, and so many others articulate, transforms the very ways in which we seek out systems and communities to receive “justice,” which too often is synonymous for “punishment.” Restorative justice means not resorting to a “do harm, receive harm” mentality but rather a “do harm, receive equitable consequences and offerings of accountability in addressing the social conditions and interactions that escalated to perpetrating such harm.” Restorative justice does not mean we are not responsible for our harmful actions or that we may look away from the violence we inflict; however, it simultaneously does not mean incarcerating people, deporting families, or enacting other forms of punitive, legal, and systemic disenfranchisement and ostracization upon one another in the name of “justice.”

We’ve heard the saying, “Kill the cop in your head.” We’ve seen the posts about defunding the police and prisons. And, even if we killed the approximate 800,000 police officers and defunded each and every one of the country’s 17,985 law enforcement agencies, we would still be living in a toxic culture of interpersonal policing, harassment on those most marginalized, and disorganization of a society paradoxically attempting to seek liberation and justice (Stanley 2015). Even if places of incarceration were destroyed and the millions of individuals behind bars were released, we would still find ourselves in a society of paroling one another’s actions, beliefs, and identities. Critical Resistance’s “Introduction to PIC Abolition” featured in Captive Genders provides us with 7 basic steps to dismantling the coercive and carceral ideologies of punishment and warfare, “a short-term step to abolish the PIC [prison-industrial complex]… also connected to a long-term vision of strategy” (2015:383-385). Our daily actions have the capability of being strategic, emergent, and interconnected to one another. Abolishing such systems of violence and punishment must be understood as a praxis extending beyond a simplistic focus on just physical structures but also our psychological and emotional responses to experiencing harm and marginalization (Lydon 2012). Utilizing anarchism and restorative justice means rerouting these responses to trauma, as well as establishing deep emergent relationships between one another that abolished such punitive forms of punishment and violence inflicted from the state. Maybe if we start to utilize these tenets and begin with the relationships around us, together, these tools may not seem so small in comparison. Maybe we may then start to reinvision justice.

Resources

Bey, Marquis. 2020. Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism. Chico, CA: AK Press.

brown, adrienne m. 2017. Emergent Strategy. Chico, CA: AK Press.

brown, adrienne m. 2019. “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. Chico, CA: AK Press.

Critical Resistance. 2015. Pp. 383-385 in Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, 2nd ed. Edited by Eric A. Stanely and Nat Smith. Baltimore, MD: AK Press.

Davis, Angela Y. 2003. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.

Gossett, Che. 2017. “Blackness and the Trouble of Trans Visibility.” Pp. 183-190 in Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hardy, Janet W. and Dossie Easton. 2017. The Ethical Slut, 3rd ed. New York: Ten Speed Press.

Hexe. 2012. “Anarchy, BDSM, and Consent-based Culture.” Pp. 231-236 in Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Kaur, Valerie. 2020. See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. New York: One World Publications.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches 1:110-114.

Lydon, Jason. 2012. “Tearing Down the Walls: Queerness, Anarchism and the Prison Industrial Complex.” Pp. 195-205 in Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Mitchell, Larry. [1977] 2019. The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions. New York: Nightboat Books.

Nordgren, Andie. 2006. “The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy.” The Anarchist Library. 

Shepard, Benjamin. 2012. “Harm Reduction as Pleasure Activism.” Pp. 101-114 in Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Song, Susan. 2012. “Polyamory and Queer Anarchism: Infinite Possibilities of Resistance.” Pp. 165-172 in Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Stanley, Eric A. 2015. “Fugitive Flesh: Gender Self-determination, Queer Abolition and Trans Resistance.” Pp. 7-17 in Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, 2nd ed. Edited by Eric A. Stanely and Nat Smith. Baltimore, MD: AK Press.

Thom, Kai C. 2019. I Hope We Choose Love. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Volcano, Abbey. 2012. “Police at the Borders.” Pp. 33-42 in Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire, edited by C.B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

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