At the Risk of Hyperbole, the Radical “Community” is a Lie
Posted January 2, 2010on:
Re-posted from Monsters and Moltovs with permission from Adrian.
“Hey, I haven’t seen you in forever! How are you?” People greet me enthusiastically. I haven’t seen them in over four months. I nod and smile and give vague, canned responses. I don’t know what to say. How do you sum up four months of your life? How do you sum up four months of your life to people who don’t care?
We talk about “the radical community” as if it’s a thing, a given. We talk about the importance of emotional support, as if we actually care, as if we’re going to have time for each other when one of us leaves.
I stopped organizing with SDS four months ago. Two people asked me why; one of them listened to me as I vented about the events and the emotions that led to my leaving. And I love both of those people for that. But that was it. More importantly, that’s a lot more support than most people get when they leave.
Give “the movement” two and a half years of your life, and people let you walk away like it’s nothing. But leaving wasn’t nothing. It took me so long to make that decision; in fact, it took three or four tries before I finally left for good.
This probably sounds like me whining “oh god why did they let me leave?” or “woe is me; nobody loves me!,” but that’s not at all what I’m trying to say . Of course they let me leave; it was my decision to do so. And in the scheme of things, it doesn’t even matter that I left. It does matter, though, that many other people are leaving the movement for similar reasons. It matters because how are we going to build a better world if our organizations have such a high turnover rate, if people leave feeling burned out and bitter?
Seeing everyone again made me remember how things were when I was part of “the radical community,” and for a minute there, I was tempted to go back. I even felt it again, the feeling of belonging to that community, of belonging to something greater.
We sat together during conference calls, we rode to conventions crammed together in the back seats of cars, we talked for hours on end about society and our vision for a better world, we were pushed around by cops in the streets, we reminisced about the good (and bad) times, and we cooked and danced and played and slept together. We were supposed to change the world together.
And I guess I don’t know what friendship and camaraderie and community and family mean, because that’s what it felt like to me. But then I left and I never saw most of those people again. And part of it is my fault, for not reaching out to anyone.
However, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this. I’m not the only one who has realized that you’re nothing to the radical community if you’re not organizing. Because when I think about it, I realize that even before I left, I didn’t always feel welcome — I never felt included or wanted or even liked until I started organizing, and taking on more work than I could handle. Even then, there were a lot of people who liked me only when I sat back, agreed with what they said, didn’t make waves, and didn’t call anyone out on their privilege.
Community, friendship, solidarity, and emotional support shouldn’t mean “people who work with me” or “people who agree with me.” If we’re going to be building a better world, we should start by caring for each other as human beings, not as organizers. Because really, there’s nothing revolutionary about defining our relationships with people based on the work that they do or that we do with them.
As someone in SDS has most likely said: despite all our talk about emotional support and building a better world, we’re so alienated from one other that we need to form working groups to figure out how to treat each other like human beings. Using that method, of course we get it wrong. And then we act surprised and upset as yet another “comradical” (usually a woman, person of color, queer person, trans person, and/or working class person) leaves.
Of course we’re leaving! And I’m starting to think that it’s for the best. I’m starting to think that the “I haven’t seen you in forever!” types and the “but why is emotional support important?” types can have their community; the rest of us will build our own.