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Beyond protest politics

By Amaka Okechukwu

I arrived at Detroit 2012 ready to leave protest politics behind. I was tired of and felt disempowered by demands that those in power change our conditions. At most, protests lead to policy reform, but do not restructure anything in a society that desperately needs transformation.

I was not willing to compromise with state and corporate authorities when it came to our humanity — too much premature death, soul-crushing jobs and feelings of powerlessness exist in this world.

Additionally, protest is often complicit in the racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-human oriented capitalist system. I am interested in visionary organizing because it requires a re-imagining of so much that I am accustomed to doing.

For these reasons, I was excited to see the work of Detroiters and others around the country engaged in visionary organizing. These people also helped me raise important questions about resistance.

My frustrations with protest organizing are very much related to feelings of powerlessness and the ways the tactic of protest are often used without any understanding of strategy or the historical political economic context in which it occurred.

So often, protest organizing occupies a defensive position, without a transformative vision for the future and ultimately reifies the bankrupt system that is the source of our problems.

Yet, there is a clear need to protect our humanity while we are striving for a new world. The mass incarceration and premature death of Black men and the plunging health condition of adults and youth, for instance, are clear immediate needs that cannot be ignored or taken for granted.

But resistance to these realities should not be limited to protest, it should cultivate self-sufficient communities that can meet our material needs, not excesses, as well as our creative and spiritual needs for collective work, personal connection and innovation.

The act of protesting can be transformative for many; it may be the first experience that some have with political consciousness-raising.

Protests are spaces in which large amounts of people feel as if they are engaging in something meaningful and making moral action in community with others. However, limiting our work to protesting effectively limits our creative abilities and imagination. And a radical imagination is necessary if we are committed to freedom.

Current political economic and cultural conditions require Resistance. However, as Civil Rights activist Ella Baker would argue, resistance movements require the long-term work of sustained organizing in communities — the every day work that involves building relationships with people and creates institutions that cultivate the agency of ordinary people, not simply the mobilization of large crowds.

Thus protest, by itself, is limited. It is up to us to envision more for our future and make that vision a reality.

Amaka Okechukwu is a co-founder of Growing Roots, a New York-based work group dedicated to using the principles of the Beloved Community to transform the economy and each other. She can be reached at amakacamille@gmail.com

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