Why Community Leverage Will Win This Fight
This Black uprising is generative and transformative. Our collective power and possibility are materializing into something real and concrete. Communities around the world are responding to calls for solidarity with Black folks who want an end to this carceral state. In this moment that is growing ever ripe with change, we are all interpreting what it means to act in solidarity with Black people, who continue to be the primary target of white supremacist violence. While some people are allowing themselves to be radicalized in the fight against anti-blackness, others remain attached to ways of living that are inseparable from anti-blackness.
Where many are inspired to dismantle this oppressive status quo and create a livable life for Black people, others fearfully react in defense of privileges that all have inherently violent consequences. As some of us are learning what it means to make demands from institutions and people who have power over us, we are also entering a negotiation between two fundamentally opposed power dynamics. We are participating in a radical tradition that predates each of us. Because anti-blackness, colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy have all dominated the world for centuries, we are inheriting a fight that all of our ancestors have fought.
Some fought for liberation, while others fought to preserve the same status quo that we are still struggling against today. All of this prompts us to ask, “how do we develop a winning strategy?” Before we set out to answer this question, we first have to acknowledge that this question can mean very different things depending on the power dynamics at play. A store owner who has enjoyed cheap non-unionized labor for years will probably favor any course of action that prevents workers from unionizing. A politician will favor a strategy that gets them elected with the least amount of concessions made to marginalized communities. Administrators will favor a strategy that silences the largest number of dissenters while responding to the fewest number of grievances possible.
For those of us who want Black people to have access to a livable life, we are left to grapple with this dilemma: those who wield power over us have little to no incentive to build power with us. In order for us to develop and apply a winning strategy, we have to understand how necessary leverage is in this fight against anti-blackness. To put it simply, it is dangerous for any of us to attempt to change this violent status quo without first building community leverage with each other.
Where reform compromises with the people who wield power over us, leverage can be applied whether or not our oppressors volunteer to transform themselves and their institutions. Black people are fighting to gain access to the things we need, whether or not anyone believes that we deserve to live. Asking people to answer for their oppressive actions is irresponsible if we do not also have a contingency plan in the event that they refuse. This applies within a company, non-profit, school, or organization as much as it applies to abusers or other individuals who cause interpersonal harm. We need community leverage to tip the scales in our favor when everything is against us.
We cannot create leverage if we are burning out our collective capacity on purely performative actions and reforms. In our fight to end anti-blackness and the carceral state, it is unacceptable to leave Black Black folks who may be queer, trans, indigenous, disabled, and/or survivors unsupported and isolated.
When we talk about prison abolition, we are not asking the state to abolish itself, nor are we asking the state to oppress us by gentler means. We are planning to dismantle every power dynamic and institution that inflicts any harm or violence on any one of us. We are developing our own strategies of keeping each other safe from violence, and we are creating sustainable networks of care that help all of us access a livable life. We are seizing everything that best suits our needs while discarding everything that leaves us neglected and wanting.