I call this “Movement Pains.”
Every social movement begins in pain. When people see or experience social injustice, movements are born. This should surprise none of us, for our mothers brought each of us forth at the crucible between death and life. When we see or experience social injustice, we viscerally sense pain and are urged by internal forces to fight, to right such wrongs.
This is so despite the fact that we, all of us, live in a sticky web of oppression. We rarely admit this fact, yet we know this through our social interactions. We know that we are not free. What does this mean for social movements? It means we come to them with a psychosocial wound, one that is only exacerbated by the hypnotical lure of power. Think of this: people who come together, organized to build social movements for greater freedom are not free.
What does this mean in the real world? I should tell you that I speak today, not merely of today but of our yesterdays when one of the deepest social movements held sway. Men, usually men, mostly, and women who never held power, found themselves in powerful political positions in organizations, and more than a few of them abused that power usually for sexual favors from women.
On this note, I must add this aside. European modernity had its emergence not merely as Marx asserts in the brutal lives of capitalism but in the inquisition which marked mass terror and the suppression of women. In the name of a war against witches, men waged war against women who were traditionally herbalists, healers, doctors, and nurturers of European tribes. Their prominence had to be diminished. Their prominent had to be diminished so as to make room for the mastery of men and the suppression of the awesome power of female sexuality.
So men, many clothed in robes that brought to mind female garb, took their places in the healing arts: medicine, the priesthoods, and in the councils of the law. These profound abuses radiated throughout European society and its colonial outposts like America. Here we find the roots of patriarchy.
In hindsight, I can see that all of us were oppressed. Even while we were abusing our power, we were abused by a greater power, states’ power that killed us in the streets and, as the example of Fred Hampton showed us, in our sleep as well. We must not forget that the abuse of power also led to us killing each other, Panthers killing Panthers, the ultimate abuse of power and betrayal of power.
Social movements can and must allow for room to grow among each other, for few life experiences will allow better opportunities to work with people such as those drawn to social movements, for fundamentally, social movements are peopled by idealists, people who deeply believe that another world is not only possible but necessary. This means they’re called by compassion, feelings for each other to help build and support each other. These feelings help us really see each other, even our very human failings in the struggle to change the world.
If Huey and Eldridge had more compassion, maybe, just maybe, the party would have survived. We are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers. We hold the keys of compassion that can break the bonds of power’s abuse.
We are all subject to an oppressive system that seeks to destroy all who seek social change. We must learn from the errors of our past so to not repeat them. I leave you all with two simple but pretty powerful words: compassion and love. These will not fail us.
From imprisoned nation, this is your brother Mumia Abu-Jamal.
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