HOPE is more important for our survival than oxygen.
I became an organizer in March of 2020, week one of lockdown. I became obsessed with the movement, with theorizing it, with building it, and with the future it promises is within our grasp. As the world crumbled, organizing provided an avenue to seize control of our future and rebuild it from the foundation up. At a time when everything felt out of our control, embracing hope was oxygen in a suffocating world.
One of the first lessons I learned as an organizer was the importance of militant optimism. Militant optimism, a theory first coined by the German philosopher Ernst Bloch, is the idea that hope is a social commitment that gives us agency over our reality. Hope isn't something you have, it is something you do. In the words of Marx himself, "It will then become apparent that the world has long possessed the dream of a matter, of which it must only possess the consciousness in order to possess it in reality." Marx's words assert that as long as there is hope or a vision, there is radical potential for this vision to turn from theory into reality. In essence, the birthplace of all radical change is within the initial sparks of hope that ignite the realization that theory can become reality.
If our work is not done with the vision of a better world within our grasp, why should we take action? Our movements are constructed not on a foundation of fear, but one of hope. Hope that one day the injustices we combat will be defeated and leave us with a better world in their wake. Hope is not naive, it is rebellious and slightly reckless. Above all, hope is radical.
Hope serves not as an excuse to avoid taking action, but rather as a constant reminder of the urgency to build the world we want to live in. When we view the seemingly countless crises playing out on a daily basis through a lens of fear, we become paralyzed by the seeming impossibility of the task ahead of us rather than feeling empowered to take action. Hope breaks down the impossible into the possibility of achieving our goals. Hope instills a sense of agency that is a catalyst for taking action, seizing power from our oppressors, and building the world we seek to live in. Change is not achieved by so-called “realists,"--people who look at the likely outcomes of the fight ahead of us, this monumental uphill battle, and resign to lying down and accepting defeat. The fight for our liberation, the fight against capitalism, the fight for a livable future, is a fight for our survival in the midst of the climate crisis. Accepting defeat is an act of cowardice. A way of resigning responsibility. In this fight for our survival, our futures can not handle the burden of a "realist" mindset.
I make no attempt to sugarcoat the fight ahead of us. Holding on to hope is painful; it forces you to take responsibility for creating the change you hope to witness. It places your future in your hands and leaves it up to you to mold. Hope is an emotional burden that can make Atlas's eternal punishment seem like a walk in the park. Burning alive on the flames of your own hope is a cruel form of torture. Choosing hope isn't an easy option, but it's the only choice we can make if we want the possibility of survival, of winning a livable future, of making our lives mean something in the grand scheme of history.
There is no grand revolution coming to save you, to save us. We will not wake up one day to the news alerting us of the downfall of capitalism overnight. Our future will not be won by one revolution, but rather by several simultaneous ongoing revolutions. The revolution has been happening, it's happening today, it'll be happening tomorrow, it's happening here.
As theorized by J.K. Gibson-Graham, the world is a world in which many worlds exist, and by extension, the revolution is one in which many revolutions exist. The revolution is a fight for black lives, a fight for queer lives, a fight for indigenous lives, a fight for undocumented lives, a fight for disabled lives, a fight for working-class lives, a fight for our lives. The revolution is a fight for the liberation of our own minds. In this revolution of revolutions, the revolution starts with you. Through anti-capitalist community building and the collective fight for our liberation, we are creating small pockets of socialist utopias within the midst of a late-stage capitalist dystopia. By constructing community care networks and community economies, we are able to build examples of what alternatives to existing oppressive systems could be. By constructing small-scale examples of alternative economic systems, we are able to shake the hold capitalism has on our society. Existing systems of oppression persist because we allow them to, because we have collectively bought into the idea that this is the way things have always been and will always be. But it doesn't have to be this way. If we view capitalism as an all-powerful system that we have no capacity to fight against, we are creating a capitalist system that is all-powerful. Hope fuels the construction of alternatives to our existing dystopian society, and proves we have the possibility of achieving what has been condemned as being unrealistically utopian. These glimpses of utopian possibilities can be seen every day if we just open our eyes to alternative futures. Our capacity to create revolutionary change in our day-to-day lives is what keeps the sparks of hope alive, and once you begin to notice the subtle acts of revolutionary compassion in our daily lives you will realize we are in the midst of a wildfire. Hope, like fire, is dangerous, violent, uncontrollable, and necessary for our survival. Wake up every day with the knowledge that you can change the lives of other people. Once you accept this, once you force this to become your reality, you will. Wake up and smell the smoke, but don't touch the fire.
Hope carries with it a sense of urgency so powerful it can be suffocating. Amidst sparks of hope carried by the urgency of our present moment, movement organizers must avoid being suffocated by the weight of the potential we realize is within our grasp. Naturally, activism carries a heavy emotional burden as we are constantly confronting the oppression pervasive throughout our society in both tangible and theoretical ways. The pressure of time weighs heavily on the shoulders of movement organizers. Every second we aren't organizing is another second that those we care so deeply about continue to face the oppressive forces we are fighting. On an individual level, we also face the fear of fucking up in even the slightest way. If we fuck up our work, it isn't our careers or our paychecks that take the blow - those subject to the oppression we are fighting will bear the burden of our mistakes.
Although activist spaces often try to resist heteronormative patriarchy, the influences of these forms of oppression seep into organizing spaces and result in the weight of emotional labor being disproportionately placed on women and AFAB people. Leftist organizing spaces still struggle with dismantling the gender dynamics built by heteronormative society. Emotional labor is vital to the survival and sustainability of our movements, yet it is devalued and overlooked within organizing spaces. Women disproportionately bear the weight of emotional labor, regardless of their interest in doing so. We are forced into positions managing intra- and inter-organizational tension within our movements, de-escalating conflict, and caring for our organizers, all while having to outperform our male counterparts in order to be taken seriously within organizing spaces.
The militant side of militant optimism is just as vital as maintaining an optimistic outlook. However, we must reconceptualize what action we classify as militant. We need to reconceptualize the idea of militancy to incorporate and recognize forms of action typically deemed “feminine” as radical. As we work to deconstruct the hold patriarchy has over organizing spaces and by extension our entire conceptualization of the revolution, it is crucial that we dismantle the superiority we stereotypically attribute to "masculine" labor. The feminine labor of taking care of one another has just as much, and arguably even more, radical potential as the "masculine" actions of throwing Molotov cocktails and punching nazis. In essence, we need to recognize that “feminine” labor is radical.
Feminine labor is vital for the survival of our movements and as such can be a tool for undermining the interests of capitalism as much as or even more than masculine labor. Thus, emotional labor can be a radical, revolutionary, and powerful tool for upending the hold the status quo has over our society. Your politics are worthless if they do not compel you to take action, however, revolutionary action does not always mean throwing Molotov cocktails or blowing up dams. I say this not to discourage these types of Action necessarily, but to encourage people who wouldn't consider themselves to be activists to find ways to incorporate revolutionary action into their day-to-day lives. Taking care of one another under a capitalist system that seeks to individualize us is militant. Building community is militant. Talking your friends, comrades, and strangers off the ledge is militant. Finding your personal stake in the collective interest is militant. Taking on emotional labor to benefit the collective is militant. Any action that undermines the status quo and capitalism is militant. We must acknowledge and embrace the radicality of our actions, no matter how small, in order to fully realize the potential of our collective struggle for a liberated future.
Hold onto hope, in spite of everything. Every headline on the news, every sign of the climate crisis, every daily struggle as working-class people under late-stage capitalism is telling us to give up. Holding onto hope is not naive, it's incredibly hard. Holding onto hope is revolutionary. It has the radical potential to turn theory into action, to turn utopias from science fiction into reality. Hope has the potential to save us all. I envision a world where taking care of one another isn’t the exception, it is expected. Where no one goes hungry or homeless, and resources are distributed instead of wasted. A world where we work because we are passionate about what we do, not because we feel the pressure to make money to survive or earn societal approval. This world is possible, and it starts with each of us. So whether you blow up a pipeline or support mutual aid to provide for your community, hold onto every spark of hope and take action to ignite the revolution in your daily life and take action to burn shit to the fucking ground.
The Dartmouth Radical