this child comes without programming and why i struggle with single issue organizing

kids have magic in them.  a magic we have largely forgotten as adults and that, in my opinion, has let us fuck over each other and the world.  i am reminded of this constantly because i surround myself with kids.  they’re more honest, more real, less walled off and skittish.

when we’re kids we havent been taught yet that there are people we do talk to and people we do not, based on race, religion, gender, etc.  we don’t know that the person sitting on the ground with a sign in front of them is to be avoided and ignored–look away before they make you feel twinges of guilt you dont think you can do anything about.  we dont understand any of the interpersonal walls we build under the guise of social norms.  and its awesome.

i go out on the town with kids often.  we wander around the downtown mall: stomping and laughing, singing to each other and throwing hissy fits.  francsesca and i love to stop in front of the mudhouse and run around all crazy, play follow the leader and giggle excessively.  and part of walking out around charlottesville with francesca or kingston and roddy is that they will walk up to anyone and engage.  just the other day, as francesca was scaling the steps in front of the ice rink she noticed a man, sitting by himself.  i noticed the body language that said he was not interested in engaging, but oblivious, francesca walked over to him and gave him her come hither fingers.  when he didn’t respond francesca turned herself around and scooted her little diaper butt backwards to sit down right next to him.  he was uncomfortable and you could see the internal struggle playing out on his face.  francesca is a charming kid and it is mighty hard to ignore her advances even when youre actively walling yourself off.

or the other night with kingston and roddy.  as we were wandering slowly down the mall, roddy walked up to a middle aged homeless man and just said hello.  the man seemed to be deep inside himself and struggling there, but he managed to swim to the surface for a smile.  and it was the kind of smile that crumbles walls and breaks spells.  we didn’t have anything to offer that man other than the acknowledgment that he was human, just like us, but god damnit if didnt seem more valuable than the spare change we might have offered him otherwise.

and thats the magic.  that kids will walk up to anyone and engage.  that they will remind people we are all really just the same.  and i love that i get to be there for it, that i get to engage right along side them.  and it seems so basic, like the fundamental piece of what has broken down between us grown up humans.  i am learning every day from the kids in my life.  they keep me real and astonishingly honest.  they make me a better person by reminding me what it’s like to be a kid.

so the tie in.  my frustration with single issue organizing is that we break ourselves into little pockets of justice work: environmental work, racial justice, prisoner support, local food access, peace work.  we focus on that issue with our blinders on and offer single issue solutions that dont recognize the web that connects all of our very radical work; we dont look for the common cause.   which, for me, ends up looking like a lot of energy invested in groovy work that gets lost because we’re not addressing the real cause.  and i’m pretty convinced that it is the rampant dehumanization of people who are somehow different from us that allows us to go to war, enforce unethical laws, build hazardous facilities (coal plants, nuke plants, industrial factories) next door to someones home or school, that sits at the foundation of all that is unjust in this world.  and if more of us were walking out with the kids in our lives and engaging with people we wouldn’t normally, if we let ourselves explore the edges of our comfort in that way, pushing and expanding and opening ourselves to a world of connection, we wouldn’t be able to ignore the human impact of anything we did.  so basically, if we were all connected to who we were as kids, the world would be a better place.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paxus
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 16:20:21

    Leave it to you to bridge the open behavior of children to the failure of single issue organizing. So what i want is the holistic fix you are proposing more fully outlined. Do we (who work on nukes for example) show up, contribute, joint organize stuff on prison work? If everyone cant do everything, do we work on fundamentally different types of campaigns? Inquiring minds want to know.


  2. Sara Tansey
    Jul 13, 2011 @ 02:41:04

    we were having this conversation tonight: kassia, ken and i. the pesky question of how to engage “other” groups (read: non-white, non-affluent) was raised as a criticism of the birth of the brooklyn co-op. my thesis is that if we are going to work in new and meaningful ways, in ways that challenge injustice and oppression, we have to be working in whole communities with whole solutions. it is slow and non glamorous work, but it feels more solid for creating a different world.

    for me that means organizing block by block, or neighborhood by neighborhood. it means sitting around a table and sharing our hopes and dreams for our small community, sharing our concerns and fears. identifying the needs and desires that live next door to each other and working slowly together on them. i brought up the experience of the listening project in jenkinsville, of how i had my anti nuclear agenda and entered a community and asked simple questions and got complex answers. sure, people were worried about their health in connection with the nuke plant, but the most common hope and dream was a more local grocery. something that wasnt a walmart 30 miles away. so you throw out your agenda and start where most people are concerned, and build structures that address multiple issues within a community. for me it’s slowly building local cooperative communities. and that involves food independence, interpersonal conflict resolution, challenging internalized isms together, in a community setting, providing all the basic needs and desires.

    and i think this does have to be balanced. because the work of holistic solution creation is slow and there are things we have to stop now. single issue organizing wont go away, and i am into stopping new nukes or new mtr sites or new jails from being built or filled or blown up. the piece i dont know how to deal with yet is how to avoid creating a piecemeal oppressive world while working within our single issue blinders. because so often in our urgency and self righteousness we ignore whole segments of society and leave them out of our cool projects. sure we try to reach out but oftentimes in uncompelling ways. and so in the rush to make our goals, we perpetuate a world of division and oppression. thoughts here are welcome.

    but the summary, work within our communities, our neighborhoods to self sustain, to find our weaknesses and solve them together. meanwhile, stop the shit thats happening right now. maybe as part of your neighborhood organizing. sorry for the ramble, its incoherent. maybe another blog post soon.


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