The results of the election left many of us shocked, in despair, and the most marginalized of us (Queer, Trans, Immigrant, Differently Abled), afraid for our safety. I for one, could not stop shaking. As a black woman, living with PTSD from various acts of sexual violence, the election of a self-proclaimed sexual predator to the highest level of office, left me replaying my victimization over and over in my head. As calls to action started to flood in, my anxiety made it difficult to show up in certain spaces. This response has been echoed in the stories of my coworkers, community members and friends who also show up to spaces differently because of their previous experiences of trauma, the identities they carry, and the way those experiences continuously play out in our daily lives.
Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing event or experience that threatens, injures or impacts an individual physically, emotionally, spiritually or psychologically.
Collective trauma refers to the group impact when a collective community of individuals shares an experience of trauma either at a specific point in time or over an extended period of time, such as those sharing the experience of slavery, police violence, natural disasters etc.
Fight. Flight. Freeze.
In the wake of the results of this election, there have been numerous calls to action: to march and protest, to sign petitions, to lead trainings. To fight. For many white women, these calls might seem new, overwhelming, or absolutely innovative. For (Queer, Trans, Femme) Black activists, however, these calls are part of a legacy of political activism and action that we revisit time and again. So the question today, as those of us who are most at risk of having our lives disrupted under the regime of the new president-elect, is what happens when you are called to do that which you can not physically, mentally or emotionally engage in?
It’s important to name that as Black activists, inside of a survivor-led and survivor-centered organization, we did not create this current national/international state of crisis. We’ve been living inside of this crisis and impacted by it our whole lives. It is not “on us” to speak, as we are already laboring to stay alive and carry ourselves against a current of injustice, hatred and erasure. We didn’t collectively vote for a racist, sexist, homo-antagonistic, trans-antagonistic, sexual predator to be president of the United States. We did not create, nor do we as Black people benefit from white supremacy. And, even as we work relentlessly to unlearn heteropatriarchy, we did not create it either. We did not ask to be raped, assaulted, victimized and abused and do not benefit from our own suffering, as have White people, CIS-heterosexual men, and those who occupy the dominant identities in this country. And yet, we are the ones being demanded to fix the system. Black women are being called to fight, and to do the work that we have always done, work that has always been expected of us. Work that is not new to us, work that our ancestors started and that future generations will continue. Noble work, necessary work, but work nonetheless.
As activists and organizers we must acknowledge both the personal and collective trauma each of us brings to this work, and the trauma that each of us contends with on a daily basis. We must demonstrate the ways in which naming and relentlessly seeking healing from these traumas IS resistance.
In particular, we consider the question of the recently proposed Women’s March on Washington: will we go? We believe it is important that those of us who desire it march with a contingent of other fierce Black-identified folx. When some of us do go, will we be welcome? Will our demands be centered? Marching and protesting, especially in epicenters of political power such as Washington D.C. has long been a political tradition that is seen to be as “American as apple pie.” However, marching and protesting also has a long history of being exclusionary of black women, of trans and LGBQI+ and gender non-conforming folx, of undocumented individuals, of those who identify as different abled in both visible and invisible ways, of those whose trauma makes it complicated for them to show up in the protest space. For example, at the national 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession on Washington, wildly lauded as the first and most powerful march for suffrage by white American women, many key Black women organizers were forced to the back of the march. This exclusion within status quo political spaces -- especially within electoral contexts -- needs to be talked about from the get-go when well-intentioned activists from across many backgrounds propose a march as the most primary and desirable act of resistance available to us.
As Black women, we believe that marching and protesting are necessary forms of resistance, but that the hallmark of being an organizer is meeting people where they are at. For activists and organizers, this means holding space for those of us who choose not to show up in that way or who truly can not show up in order to preserve themselves and their safety & wellbeing. We must also commit to going further. We must recognize that it is not enough to hold space, we must validate and make our calls to action reflective of the myriad ways resistance shows up. Resistance shows up when a trans person reaches out to a therapist for help. Resistance shows up when undocumented parents call teachers and administrators to ensure that their children can continue to attend school if they are deported. Resistance shows up when you hold spaces for healing and joy while your fellow comrades are marching on Washington. In the many calls to fight, we must also recognize and understand the necessity to “freeze,” to pause, to take stock and inventory the many ways our individual and collective trauma is showing up.
We need to recognize that for a survivor with an open court case, protesting may not be an option. For a trans-identified person who has had a traumatic experience with police, protesting may be triggering. As a differently abled individual, protesting may not be a physically accessible means of showing resistance. And that is ok. As activists and organizers we must never shame each other into showing up in ways that are inauthentic to our identities, or in ways that can cause ourselves harm without having the resources for support. On social media and within activist circles many are calling for us to stop grieving, to step out of pause and to engage in action. And action is powerful, action is necessary, action is what will move us forward. That can only be true if there is also space to heal, if there is also space to grieve, and if there is space for our trauma to be processed.
In this work it is easy to hold that it is all on us. It is easy to think that we must be the ones protesting, we must be the ones showing up because if we don’t who will. It is important for me to remember that I show up to this work because I choose to. Because I have done and am continuing to do the work of decolonizing my consciousness, decolonizing my existence, and figuring out what it means to authentically walk in the world in all of my identities. And it is critical that I honor that as a form of resistance. I show up because it hurts to see my friends, community members, family and loved ones terrified. It hurts to talk to my friends and the only source of comfort to their pain and grief is to assure them that I feel it too. I show up because I understand that my own liberation is bound up in those around me and because I truly believe in world without violence. There have been times when I have shown up as a protester, times when I’ve shown up and given testimony to acts of violence committed against me a, times when I have shown up as a sister letting someone know that I affirm their humanity and that what they are feeling is real. These are all powerful acts of resistance. In a world that is dehumanizing and rendering so many of us invisible, so many of us as “less than” it is revolutionary to tell someone “I see you, I hear you, I am in the room with you.” In a world that renders your existence as criminal, waking up and getting through the day is revolutionary. And for many of us, that is how we show up to this work.
In these following months when our activism is so vital and seems so urgent, we need to remember that when we send out calls to our fellow organizers and activists, we must do so out of love, and out of understanding that not everyone can and will show up to this work the same. Some of us don’t march. Some of us do. Some of us will be holding healing circles alongside the march, and spaces for community ritual all across the country. Some of us will be curled up in our blankets lighting a candle on our home altars. And that is ok. For those of us doing the work, it is ok to remember that it isn’t all on us and that we are not in this alone. We must remember why we choose to show up to this work in the first place. To remember that affirming our own humanity is work in and of itself, and that that work is hard, and that there are some days that your greatest victory will be making it through the day and feeling every emotion that arises within you. There are some days that you won’t be able to look at yourself in the mirror and feel the love and respect you so deserve. And that is ok. That is ok, because we are declaring that in those moments, the movement will make space for you and for how you show up. As activists and organizers trying to move forward and demand human rights, we must do the work of recognizing that resistance comes in many forms and build a movement that truly reflects the world we are choosing to work so hard to create.
It is in this spirit that Black Women’s Blueprint invites you to work with us to co-create a blueprint for our collective response in this socio-political crisis. We are collecting A Thousand Resources for Black Women’s Resistance and building a toolkit that will guide us our activism and resistance. The practices, readings, meditations, and advice therein will sustain us through the next four years long after the Women’s March on Washington is over.
Additionally, we invite you to join Black Women’s Blueprint for our monthly member meeting December 5th, 2016, where we will focus on building out our post-inauguration strategy and thinking about the various myriad and valid ways in which we intend to show up in Washington DC before, during, after, and despite/in spite of the March. We will also as well as holding healing space so that we can continue this fight in a sustainable and authentic way that is in integrity with our collective humanity.
Your sister always in continuing solidarity, peace and love.