When the Movement Itself Tears Us Down

My brain is fried and I have so many words that I feel them
winding around me like chains of lament, constricting me.

When Alicia Crosby of Center for Inclusivity (quoted with permission) told me she was feeling that way, I gasped. I also feel like I’m choking and my brain is oozing out of my head. And I’m exhausted. Alicia and I are very different people in many ways, yet the feeling descriptors are identical and her words represent a destructive microcosm of struggle lying dormant in my gut. The lament, the grief and pain, wrapping themselves around my every move.

I’m writing this post because I’m being choked by multiple chains of lament and sometimes I’m moving in ways that causes me to strangle myself even worse. I’m hoping somehow these written words will loosen them for myself but also for others who are having trouble breathing through these days.


How many humans do you think could explain (or are even consciously aware of) the need/desire behind our actions and words? It isn’t something we’re usually taught how to do in school or by our guardians.


I need to loosen the grip of strangulation that my own thoughts are causing and I’m not sure how to do it.

I need to remind myself that the reason I fight for liberation of all people is because it is who I am and what I believe in, and I am loyal and fierce and stubborn and I love humanity. Other motivations and distractions creep in, but I am guided by my value system that honors integrity, equity, justice and a voice for all people. And sometimes good intention isn’t enough; more times than I’d like to acknowledge, good intentions are not enough and sometimes harmful.


In the past couple years, I have been on several sides of disagreement of “the movement” or community organizing strategies or communication plans. Sometimes I have felt like I’m too far left, radical beyond comprehension. Other times I have felt conservative. I’ve felt confused. Sometimes I have felt wrong; wrong for purely existing… And I hate that I gave someone else the power to allow me to respond to their actions in such a self-sabotaging way.

Sometimes I have felt wrong; wrong in my thoughts, beliefs and words. Sometimes I have said or done things that I, myself, logically believe were wrong. I have felt apologetic, guilty, ashamed, afraid, hopeful, hopeless… the list goes on.

Sometimes these are indeed #whitetears and I own that as part of my personal process.


I’m trying to be transparent and summarize what is constraining me and I’m struggling.

I’m watching communities fight over bread crumbs while oppressors eat loaves.

I’m feeling torn down by my comrades. I’m tearing down my comrades.


I want to quote all of the hurtful things that my community has said to me, or all the times that someone discouraged me from standing up for what I believed in. I want to somehow purge these words and thoughts from my brain and my gut.

I want to see folks at protests hugging each other and sharing words of affirmation rather than saying “we should’ve used this strategy…” or “it wasn’t good enough…”


I want to be able to have compassion, empathy and patience for folks who do or say things that perpetuate marginalization of groups of people. I want to call out microaggressions. I want to see inclusive language that isn’t triggering to anyone. I want consent to be a pre-requisite to entering spaces. I want a lot of things that are both unrealistic and privileged requests.

I want verbal disagreements to be celebrated because we need more than one strategy for true revolution.

I want to see people see disagreement as an opportunity for growth rather than one to invalidate or isolate anyone. I want people to communicate what their needs are to: to those they do not agree with and more importantly, to themselves.

I don’t want to be silenced. I don’t want to silence the exact people I claim to stand beside.


These issues are complicated. Intersectionality is complicated. Racism, classism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, transmisogyny, homophobia, heteronormativity, islamophobia… the list is long and full of words that mean different things to different people and are words some people have never seen and that some people will never use.

As Kelly Hayes* said:

I can’t tell you with certainty what will create the necessary momentum to defeat fascism, but I can tell you what won’t: a circular firing squad of movement critics.

Whether we are fighting for women, against police brutality, for immigration rights, or the countless other battles we are up against… what is the need we are expressing by spending so much time tearing down other people’s solidarity?

Is it even intentional? When I have, in retrospect, realized that I did this, it was because I needed support and a place to heal and be heard. When I’ve watched others tear folks down, my guess is often that they are hurting in indescribable ways.


It is also pretty painful to witness people just now getting involved when so many issues have been rampant for centuries. And to in turn see those people criticize marginalized folks for not showing up to the well-publicized event when they’ve been at every other action that isn’t supported by authorities or media… and watch even more division happen among folks with the same values. I don’t understand what people’s needs are here and can only assume it’s to avoid guilt.

I am not innocent myself. I oftentimes dub someone’s act of solidarity as “perpetuating systems of oppression” (see: pink pussy hats when not all pussies are pink and not all women have pussies/some men have pussies & gender isn’t a binary)

Kelly Hayes* also says that

I would argue that if it builds solidarity and people continue to learn new lessons about organizing, then it will be a victory.
If it makes a cultural impact, in terms of a rising resistance, it will be a victory.
If it inches people a little closer to radicalization, that’s a victory.

I can’t disagree there.


Perhaps, for example, some of my white classmates are uncomfortable with a form of protest because “how will I explain this to my grandparents?”… But what about other people’s grandparents with different identities and lived experiences? Only thinking about those we know directly or are related to is how we ended up with slavery, genocide, #NoDAPL and hundreds of years of indescribable and uncountable injustices.

What would it look like to keep taking steps towards solidarity and resistance without perpetuating our already debilitating silos and game of hypocritical elitism?

If we have any hope of halting [45’s regime] in its tracks, or even dulling its impacts, we will have to do the unthinkable: work in concert, despite our differences, and quarrel with the enemy more than we quarrel with each other.*

*On Strike Critiques and Beating All Meaning Out of the Word “Privilege by Kelly Hayes was published on March 8, 2017 and can be read here.

Update: 03/29/2017
This post was published with permission on Speakout, "Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces."