Visioning a World Beyond Struggle
Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty
Last week, I had the honor of attending an incredible celebration series honoring the legacy of Grace Lee Boggs in Oakland, California. I traveled to California with comrades Shea Howell and Ill “invincible” Weaver to present and contribute to the week’s events. The series of events started with a study group on The Next American Revolution (TNAR) at Eastwind Books, and included an Art as Revolution: Theater of the Oppressed Workshop with brilliant facilitator Jiwon Chung, a film screening of American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs with Q&A, a Growing Our Souls, Building Our Soil: day of vision and action workday with Urban Tilth and Movement Generation and ended with Celebrating Grace Lee Boggs: A Century of Love & Struggle at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, over the course of 4 days. Learn more about the organizers and the events at inloveandstruggle.org.
Participants included decades long comrades of Grace and James “Jimmy” Boggs who participated in the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR) and the ADVOCATORS, students, educators and organizers who had recently come to learn about Grace, organizers who had been studying Grace’s work, members of the community, longtime friends, and historian, author, theoretician, educator Robin D.G. Kelley who had a longstanding political relationship with Grace. One of his recent brilliant pieces, Thinking Dialectically: What Grace Lee Taught Me, was penned just following Grace’s transition last October.
Mental preparation for my trip to Oakland, the experiences I had while in Oakland and the subsequent work that followed back home in Detroit inspired the write-up below. I shared some of these thoughts at Grace’s memorial, but they are ever evolving.
In the film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, Grace Boggs challenges film watchers with the quote, “I don’t know what the Next American Revolution will be like, but we might be able to imagine it, if our imaginations were rich enough.”
In a way that only Grace can, she breathes life into us with this quote. She leaves us with both a challenge and an opportunity to realize our full potential as human beings.
Just months before I met Grace, I had walked off a 70K per year job in corporate America and leaped into a world of uncertainty. Most people in my life at the time thought I was stupid and losing my mind. I know this because they told me so.
But what they didn’t see, and neither did I at the time, was that my clock was ticking towards my humanity and although I was raising a young child in uncertainty, my world could no longer revolve around a paycheck. I was beginning to realize that I had to become a greater contributor in society.
My meeting comrades at the Boggs Center and ultimately being challenged and strengthened by interactions with Grace was not a fluke. I didn’t seek out the revolutionary struggle, it sought me out. The clock on my world was spinning recklessly and political struggle with Grace and my comrades at the center was preparing me to understand that we could stand on the points of the clock of the world that are right at least twice a day.
Grace pushed us to vision when the rest of the world appeared chaotic. She pushed us to study when many in the world would deem that passive. Grace pushed us to connect in love and struggle and to create our paths by walking them. She pushed us to turn to one another when the pain and trauma of the world was tearing us apart. If Grace were sitting in this room right now, she would tell us that we are living in dangerous times, a time of both crises and opportunity. She would tell us that these are the times to grow our souls and that it is not only a time to imagine what the Next American Revolution could be like, but that we should imagine what this country’s revolution could create for the rest of the world.
Grace believed, like we believe that Detroit could be the center for the world’s transformation and she pushed and guided us to take leadership in that regard and to nurture others to do the same.
The brief moment of jubilation one feels when they are protest organizing cannot be lingered upon. Although it is imperative that we celebrate the small victories in order to achieve moments of relief, we must challenge ourselves to move past the joyful moments and warm feelings that keep us celebrating for too long and into the moments that challenge us to ask ourselves what’s next? What time is it on our individual clocks? What time is it on the clocks of our blocks? What time is it in on the clocks of our cities, on the clock of the world, on the clock of our humanity?
What changes need to take place in each of us in order to challenge the status quo, the notion that a city must be poisoned in order for us to fight for it’s poor to have clean and affordable water. The notion that a people who cannot pay their bills are disposable. The notion that those who are undocumented, or are immigrants to a city are unworthy of clean air and the protection of their language, culture and identity. That the fratricide we see happening most prominently in Black and Brown communities is disconnected from racism and capitalism.
If Grace were sitting here, she would be telling us to listen to our young people and telling the young people to utilize the marbles of our elders. She would be asking us what we are going to do different, not tomorrow, but today in terms of what it means to be a human being and she would blink and stare at you until you answered.
So when asked what time it is on the clock of the world, on the clock of our souls and our humanity, let us keep in mind that we hold the hands that move the clock and we have a responsibility to move the world.
I recently heard a wise person say that we must move from the “if I do this then this will happen” into the “who do I want to be” and that the doing will come after we decide “who we want to be.”
And the having will come as we create from our new found humanity.
Let us dispel the myth of privilege that places hierarchy on a deeper investment into capitalism and white supremacy. Let us move beyond the arrogance and disconnect that would have us preference commoditized bottled water over tap water if we still have the luxury of clean water while hundreds of thousands suffer. Let us recognize that our liberation from capitalism must be a collective struggle and that we must move from solidarity to co-liberation in order to reach our full potential as human beings.
In the new world that we want to create, let us recognize art and healing as necessary forms of resistance and less as an afterthoughts in the struggle, and let us move from defensiveness to vision from vision to creation and from creation to sustainability.
Fredric Jameson has a quote that says, “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”
I say, that imagining a world beyond capitalism is nothing to a visionary.