I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately, not because of you-know-what corporate holiday which I do my best to ignore, and also not because of another silly Chris Hedges article, but because of the way that love moves as a current through the movements that I’m involved in. I’m interested in what we think of as constituting love, and what we don’t. What do we mean when we talk about love? As a verb, or a noun, or both? As a place that we go to, or a landscape that we move through? And what does that look like when we translate it to addressing the distance between the world we want to live in, and the world that we are in now?
First off, I would say that love is about boundaries. Knowing your own boundaries, taking repsonsibility for yourself and your own well being. Knowing what you need for yourself in order to be able to support those that you love, and being clear with yourself and those around you about what those boundaries are. Second, respecting the boundaries of others, honouring the right of everyone to be the sole and sovereign arbiter of where their boundaries are and whether they’re being respected or not. It’s not up to anyone to say where someone else’s boundaries should be, or when they have been crossed. Nobody else is an authority on anyone else’s boundaries, but sadly we often see “love” being trotted out as a way to push or guilt someone into allowing their boundaries to be trampled on, especially if defending those boundaries might possibly look like conflict, or like anger at their being trampled in the first place.
Within our communities, and especially communities that are explicitly focussed on creating social change, we need to take seriously our responsibility to one another’s boundaries. Real respect for boundaries is how our love for those in our communities and our movements manifests itself. I’ll quote Courtney Desiree Morris here, from the brilliant article Why Misogynists Make Great Informants:
“When we allow women/queer organizers to leave activist spaces and protect people whose violence provoked their departure, we are saying we value these de facto state agents who disrupt the work more than we value people whose labor builds and sustains movements.”
If we really mean that our movements are movements based on love, then we need to take a hard look at which people and behaviours our actions show that we value; we need to ask ourselves, who do we really show our love for? Put another way, who and what are we willing to fight for?
Throughout all sorts of narratives surrounding social movements, we see a false dichotomy being constructed between anger and love, between fighting and loving. This mythology is often rooted in a dogmatic pacifism that paints all situations with a brush of universality, oversimplifying every action to some sort of essentialist state machine: either an action is loving, or it isn’t. It’s violent or it isn’t, no matter the situation or the motivation or the people involved. The context disappears, the humanity disappears, the long story leading to that moment where a rock is thrown or an angry word is spoken drops away and those around, often those who are not directly affected by whatever is triggering the angry word or the rock, shut themselves off from whoever is doing the shouting, or the throwing. But what kind of love is that, to turn away from someone because they fight for what they love?
Anger is a part of love, especially when we are talking about manifesting our love in public, in our communities and our movements. Why? Because everything that we love is under attack. I’m not speaking only of rivers, forests, animals, wild lands and wild people that are obviously being actively extinguished by the grinding death machine of the capitalist-colonial state. I’m also speaking of our very ability to engage in love, the habitat within the social landscape that love needs to feed and grow and multiply. Capitalism, through stealing what we need to live and compelling us to wage slavery to buy it back, creates a hierarchy where people are taught not to be accountable to who and what they love, but rather to who and what has power over them. Bosses, landlords, banks – in a commodified understanding of the world, we learn to see only relationships of power-over. Our capacity to relate horizontally, to hold ourselves accountable to who and what we love, begins to atrophy. When the most dominant forms of social relations focus on appeasing those above us and maintaining position over those below, we lose track of those who are beside us. We confuse privilege, which is being higher on the hierarchy, with real freedom, which is the absense of the hierarchy and the freedom to be our whole, authentic selves. We lose our capacity to function in relationships where all are equals – and what is love if it’s not between equals?
When relations of production and utility – whether it’s the utility of paying the rent or the utility of “not dividing the movement,” whatever that means – trump relations of solidarity and care, what we’re left with is only the shell of love, lip service. Because love without accountability, without taking responsibility for our own boundaries and those of others, is an insult to the respect and mutuality that constitutes real love. Embedded within social processes that destroy the capacity for love to exist, how can anyone that values love not be outraged? When surrounded by a culture that makes love impossible, of course our love will manifest as anger, as fierceness, as our willingness to stand up and fight.
This outrage and the love that underpins it are not, as some would have us believe, opposed or mutually exclusive forces. If I stand up to call out an abuser in my community, whether that is a single individual engaging in racist or sexist behaviours or the faceless and grinding violence of police and the state in its many forms, it is not because I have a lack of love. I don’t just need to go and meditate on love or give the fucking abuser a goddamned hug, and to say that I do is an insult to the deep and implacable love that motivates me to put myself at risk, to put myself on the line to clear a space for love to flourish. Rather, it’s a measure of the strength of my commitment to love that I refuse to be silent and allow behaviour that makes people unsafe to go unchallenged, because love cannot flourish in a space where people are not accountable to each other and willing to take responsibility for one another’s safety.
When we express our love for our home, our people, our community by drawing boundaries around what we love and refusing to allow what destroys all that we love to cross them, the place from which we fight, and from whence our outrage comes, is a deep commitement to love. Certainly we will not all act on that love in the same way, we all choose where and how and when we fight, but if we truly mean to be revolutionaries of love, then our first task is to stand with one another wherever our fight is and in whatever way we can. Not because we hate or are incapable of loving those that we are fighting, but because we love enough to not allow what destroys love to continue. We fight not because we lack love, but because of it.
It breaks my heart when I see those whose love calls on them to stand up and fight being accused of not being loving enough by those who are willing to stand on the sidelines and do nothing. How arrogant to say that my love must look like yours in order to be considered love, to claim a monopoly on love and require that I check at the door my experiences and my story that make me different from you, when what I love is at risk in ways that are invisible to you and don’t affect you because of those very differences. That is not being loving, but merely selfish and self-referential. To say that I lose my claim to being loving because I am angry at what threatens my love is dehumanizing. It is the very depth of arrogance, and if there is any feeling, any action, that is the opposite of love then surely it is not hate, but arrogance.
So this is my declaration of love for all the fighters, for those whose love rears up as an inexorable force that calls us to defend what is sacred, what is human, what is worth fighting for. We know that we are not fighting because we love to fight, but because we are fighting for the survival of what we love. Our love is fierce, our love is unshakable, and our love will prevail. I love you all, my friends. I’ll see you in the streets.